Back in late July, fans of the Seattle Kraken were thrilled about the team’s first ever appearance at the National Hockey League Entry Draft. One step closer to real National Hockey League games occurring in Seattle, WA, the expansion franchise picked at No. 2 overall and wisely chose the best player available, Matty Beniers, of the University of Michigan. Their next selection took many of those watching completely by surprise.
Absent from most Top 100 scouting lists, the pick was at best unconventional, and many questioned it at the time. Evans, a left-shooting defenseman from Calgary, Alberta, had just finished his third season with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, with respectable production (3-25-28) over the shortened WHL season. For the second season in a row, he improved his year-over-year plus/minus and the team moved slightly up the standings.
Despite his upward trajectory, the lack of scouting focus on him prior to the draft suggests few NHL teams viewed him as a potential second rounder, and the vocal doubters seem to have a valid argument. There was a cluster of other defensive prospects available (Daniil Chayka who scouts had at No. 26, Scott Morrow No. 37, and Shai Bulum No. 49), all consistently ranked higher than Evans, and only time will tell if Kraken general manager Ron Francis made the right call.
One needs to remember that the decision wasn’t his alone. The Kraken embraced analytics early on, with some hires occurring prior to the reveal of their franchise name and logo, and the advanced statistics generated by that talented team must have shown the general manager something suggesting Evans is either: A) worth the draft capital, or B) wasn’t going to be there for the Kraken to select in Round 3.
The Kraken’s next three selections were higher, in those same rankings, than Evans prior to draft day, so the team must truly have seen value there that others missed. The past year has been unlike any in memory, with scouts unable to attend games, view players, and refine their rankings, so it is likely that mistakes and misjudgments have been made. Certainly some unranked players from this draft class may end up in the NHL, and it’s likely that more of the early round selections turn out to be busts than in a normal year. Kraken fans will just have to hope that their team found the diamond in the rough.
2nd assist of the game for Ryker Evans. Great patience and control to let the play develop pic.twitter.com/t01TJ782fq— Kraken Stats (@KrakenStats) October 2, 2021
On a Regina Pats team alongside future NHL star Connor Bedard, Evans should find more success at the junior level this year, and he’s already off to a hot start (0-3-3 in two games played). And while his single pre-season appearance wasn’t great, a lopsided 6-0 loss to Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers, with Evans himself a minus 3, he showed brief flashes of the player he might one day become.
The good news is Seattle’s overall defensive depth looks strong, and Evans should get development time in the minors. Just as fans of any expansion franchise need to exercise patience with their team’s early win/loss record, that same time and understanding should be extended to the Kraken’s second ever draft pick. One doesn’t have to search hard to find a story of a prospect, rushed to the NHL before their time, whose career suffered as a result. Reasonable expectations and timelines from fans and management alike, will give Evans, and all the other young future Kraken, their best chance at success.