They did it! After years of anticipation, preparation, and speculation, on July 21st, 2021 the Seattle Kraken drafted a player from each of the 30 participating NHL teams. There are now players on the roster, some free agents locked up with medium-term deals as part of the process, and come October there will be players in Kraken jerseys to take the opening face-off at Climate Pledge Arena.
In the months leading up to it, observers assumed that the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft would be similar in process and results to the 2017 draft that brought the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights into existence. This proved to be wrong in several different ways, and those differences resulted in very different teams being drafted.
The biggest difference was, to everyone’s surprise, there were no Deals with the Devil. Kraken GM Ron Francis took a hard line in negotiations with teams looking to have a say in which player was drafted from their club, and in the end none of the teams were willing to pay the King’s ransom that Francis was asking. Whether that helped or hurt the club in either the short or long term may never be known.
Remember, though, that Deals with the Devil were the primary reason that the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first year. Without Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, and Reilly Smith — all three acquired through such deals — (not Las) Vegas would never have even made the playoffs. But absent, too, were the dead cap contract acquisitions — teams who paid the Golden Knights to take useless or injured players with high cap hits off their hands. Seattle took on no such contracts, choosing instead to save that cap space for free agency.
The other biggest difference was in the signing of free agents during the exclusive negotiating period. (not Las) Vegas did not take advantage of this opportunity; Seattle did, signing three prominent unrestricted free agents to contracts and selecting that player from his former club. This was the biggest free agent class in league history, and the Kraken wasted no time in getting their intended signings locked up.
We’re going to go into more detail on several of the new members of the Seattle Kraken in the coming weeks, but today we’ll take a brief look at who the Kraken decided to select, and why.
The biggest deficiency in the panoply of available players was top-six centers. This will be readily apparent as you view the list below, but the Kraken were able to load up on wingers who can fit into roles up and down the lineup.
RW Jordan Eberle (NYI): The Kraken wasted no time in getting a top-line winger. Eberle prefers to work in close, and makes goalies look foolish when given even a split second to make a play. Dekes, tips, rebounds, good wheels, excellent hands, and a laser-precise wrist shot will start lighting up the Western Conference this fall.
C/LW Yanni Gourde (TBL): The bad news is, Gourde is recovering from shoulder surgery and will be out of the lineup until November at the earliest. The good news is, the two-time Stanley Cup champion brings speed, tenacity, and a scoring touch to the top six.
RW Joonas Donskoi (COL): The speedy Finn plays tougher and bigger than his 6′ frame, does his best work in the dirty areas, and never gives up on a play. He has good possession and plus-minus numbers; expect him to slot in on the right side of the 2nd line.
LW Brandon Tanev (PIT): “Pesky” is probably the most diplomatic way to describe this quick, feisty winger. He has worked the left side of the middle-six for Pittsburgh and Winnipeg, dishing out just shy of 1000 hits in less than 300 games.
LW/C Jared McCann (TOR): Pittsburgh wanted to trade McCann to Toronto to avoid losing him for nothing in the expansion draft. Toronto wanted to expose McCann in the hopes he would attract more attention than the Leafs’ roster players. Everybody got what they wanted, including Seattle. McCann and Tanev played a good amount of time together in Pittsburgh, so expect a reunion and some chemistry to start the year.
RW/C Calle Jarnkrok (NSH): This guy’s got a favorite shot — wrister to the top blocker-side corner from the deep slot. It will be interesting to see if Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol uses Jarnkrok as a center; he has played that position before, and with some success, but the last two years in Nashville he has played wing.
RW Tyler Pitlick (ARI): The journeyman forward has already been flipped to the Calgary Flames for a draft pick.
RW Mason Appleton (WPG): This penalty killing specialist had a breakout season with the Jets last year, putting up 25 points in 56 games. He’s not going to make the highlight reel, but he’ll provide 12 to 15 defensively-responsible minutes every night in the bottom six.
RW Nathan Bastian (NJD): Faced with the lesser of “who cares?” out of New Jersey, Seattle chose a big body for the fourth line. Bastian has a decent shot, is difficult to move off the puck, throws his weight around effectively, and generally stays out of the penalty box.
RW/C Colin Blackwell (NYR): New York acquired Blackwell so they could meet the draft exposure requirements. He ended up earning a spot on the Rangers’ 2nd line and having a breakout season with 22 points in 47 games. He can also take face-offs, which makes him a terrific 3rd-line option for the Kraken.
LW Carsen Twarynski (PHI): This was the biggest puzzler of the entire draft, as everyone went scrambling to CapFriendly in disbelief exclaiming, “WHO?!?” The primary motivation for selecting Twarynski was not selecting one of several big-dollar contract players that Philadelphia was dangling. Twarynski performed well in Juniors, and has had two respectable (if not noteworthy) seasons in the AHL. But there is little chance he makes the opening night lineup.
C Morgan Geekie (CAR): One of Ron Francis’ first-round picks in Carolina, Geekie is the conundrum in the forward ranks. He is starting to realize his top-six potential, but in order to do that he needs top-six minutes — not shut-down or “energy line” roles. Where will he land in the lineup? The wings are loaded to the gills in the top 3 lines, and we need a natural center. How he performs at training camp will determine his fate for the upcoming season.
RW Kole Lind (VAN): A pathetic list of offerings from the Canucks steered the Kraken towards this talented 22-year-old. Three exceptional years in Kelowna (WHL), racking up 224 points in 204 games before turning pro. If he works on his defensive game we could see him get a call-up to the big club this season.
C/RW Alex True (SJS): This big winger has yet to hold on to a full time roster spot with the big club, but he has had terrific showings in the AHL the past 4 years. It’s likely he starts the season as the “13th forward” on the roster with Seattle.
C/LW John Quenneville (CHI): Seattle chose to punt on its choice from the Blackhawks, selecting unrestricted free agent Quenneville and not offering him a contract. He is currently unsigned.
If you had to describe the criteria for selecting defensemen for the inaugural Kraken lineup, that word would be “BIG”. The smallest of the lot is 6′ even; 5 players are 6’3″ and taller, two are at or above 6’5″. Opposing teams will be facing a sizable wall heading into our zone.
LD Mark Giordano (CGY): Calgary did expose their captain in an effort to retain their talented young defensive core. Seattle selected him, and he brings the most experience and the most points to the Kraken blue line.
LD Jamie Oleksiak (DAL): Mount Rainier has some competition after the Kraken sought out and signed this 6’7″, 255 lb. stay-at-home defenseman to a 5-year deal. He excels at penalty killing, blocked shots, and making forwards wish they hadn’t chased the puck into the corner.
RD Adam Larsson (EDM): Seattle swept in and snatched the second-most-coveted defenseman from the loaded Oilers squad, signing the hybrid-style blueliner to a 4-year deal.
LD Carson Soucy (MIN): Another monster on the back end, Soucy is the plus-minus leader on the team. 108 games played, and a career plus-36 rating.
LD Kurtis MacDermid (LAK): Boasting more penalty minutes than games played, MacDermid was quickly traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
LD Haydn Fleury (ANA): Ron Francis’ first-round pick for Carolina in 2014 joins him in Seattle after being traded to — and exposed by — the Ducks. Fleury is a defensive liability, but has good size and will not be asked to carry top-4 duties regularly.
LD Jeremy Lauzon (BOS): With a crowded blue line facing the Kraken, as October approaches expect this talented young defender to draw interest from other clubs.
LD Vince Dunn (STL): The consensus pick from the Blues will add an offensive threat to the Kraken defensive corps. He is also a prolific shot blocker, but needs to work on reducing defensive zone giveaways.
RD William Borgen (BUF): Only 14 NHL games to his credit thus far, so this right-shot D-man will begin his Seattle career in Charlotte.
LD Dennis Cholowski (DET): This throw-away pick from the Red Wings has little chance of making the lineup. He has problematic plus-minus numbers, but doesn’t back it up with point production. I expect a year with the farm club will likely be his last with the organ-eye-zation.
RD Cale Fleury (MTL): Loads of offensive potential in Haydn’s little brother, but he needs serious work on his defensive game. He’ll get plenty of time to do that in the AHL next year.
LD Gavin Bayreuther (CLB): Another head-scratcher given the other more enticing options on the Columbus roster, Seattle selected this UFA defenseman but then bid him farewell when he signed back with the Blue Jackets on July 28th.
Things got off to a confident start that was not without controversy. A fortunate bounce in the free agent market set everything right.
G Chris Driedger (FLA): The rumors circulating after submission of the teams’ protected lists proved true, and Ron Francis stunned the league by signing the Panthers’ backup goaltender to a 3 year, $3.5 million AAV contract. Driedger has less than 40 NHL games under his belt, and despite a strong showing last season, has yet to prove that his performance was anything more than a blip. This had all the makings of Scott Darling 2.0; however Driedger will not have to carry the starter’s load all by himself. More on that in the coming days.
G Vitek Vanecek (WSH): Vanecek was the cream of the crop from the available netminders, and consensus choice from the Capitals once T.J. Oshie wound up on the protected list. He was slated to be the 1B with Driedger for the coming year, but opportunities in the free agent market made Vanecek redundant. He has been traded back to Washington for a 2023 2nd-round draft pick.
G Joey Daccord (OTT): With few decent options on the Senators’ roster, Seattle opted to grab a goalie for the farm team. Daccord has yet to show he can perform well in the AHL, and barring simultaneous injury to both goalies on the roster, he will likely never put on a Kraken jersey.
The NHL is in its free agency period, where players whose contracts have expired can sign with other teams. There has been a lot of movement so far, and the Kraken have been in the thick of things. We will take a look at the latest additions to the Seattle lineup in the coming days. Stay tuned…