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Kraken season preview: Time to enter the depths

What to watch for going into the Kraken’s inaugural season

Calgary Flames v Seattle Kraken Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

The time has nearly arrived. The Seattle Kraken have completed their preseason games, and the only thing left for them to do is finalize their roster and keep sharp in practice leading up to October 12 when the puck will drop in Las Vegas for their first real game. A city with a rich hockey tradition finally gets to root for an NHL team that has been years in the making.

Seattle is certainly ready for this, but that doesn’t mean a little season preview isn’t necessary. I’m going to break down some key things to watch for as we dive into this first season with the Kraken.

Storylines

Seattle’s debut season is truly one storyline all on its own. A brand new team brings with it a level of wonder and awe for hockey fans in general, not just the Kraken’s own fan base. There are so many questions surrounding this team as they take the ice for the first time, and I’ll run through a few here.

The first of these questions: can the Kraken capture the same expansion magic that the Vegas Golden Knights did? Vegas’ Cinderella Story playoff run set a new bar for expansion franchises that had never been seen before. Prior to their success, the expectation was that expansion teams have to struggle for a few seasons to truly find their footing in their respective leagues. It’s an expectation that makes sense when you consider that while the Kraken were able to drag into their depths one player from every NHL team (excluding Vegas), those teams all had to submit protection lists to keep certain players from being snatched. This meant the Kraken created their roster from what were mostly middle-of-the-group players and young prospects. However, Vegas showed that a team can truly be more than the sum of its parts. The Kraken are now looking to prove that what Vegas accomplished is not a fluke and that they can jump into the NHL ready to compete with the best of them. It might be too much to expect a similar run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but expectations are much higher now than they would have been in the past.

The second question: what kind of team identity is going to form? From an off-the-ice perspective, the Kraken have already established themselves as community-minded and committed to causes that impact not just Seattle but the world. But what about the team itself? What about the players? What skills are going to be in full force on this team? What will be their weak spots? Will they be a physical team or rely more on speed? Will scoring depth come from up and down the lineup, or will it be concentrated on just a few players? We can look at individual performances from each player and get an idea of what they contributed to their old teams, but this is an entirely new team now. With a few exceptions (such as teammates Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann both coming initially from Pittsburgh or Philipp Grubauer and Joonas Donskoi playing together in Colorado), these players have never played with each other like this before. Hockey is such a strong team sport that it is crucial that there is chemistry within the forward lines and the defense pairs. Figuring out that chemistry fast is going to be a huge key in generating on-ice success. As a result, it could be possible to see players utilize skillsets we haven’t seen out of them before. For now, it leaves their cohesive playing style up in the air.

Jared McCann takes a shot during a preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Additionally, what kind of brand are the players themselves going to push forward? Sports create a narrative (hence this section being called “storylines”), and the players act as the characters that we get invested in. Some personality stories are already starting to shine, from Tanev’s “I saw a ghost” headshot saga to the formation of a Swedish House Mafia forward line, but figuring out how the rest of this team’s character will shine is going to be exciting.

The third question: what rivalries are going to form? After all, sports aren’t just about rooting for the team you love. They also become about rooting against the teams you hate. The Golden Knights look to be a natural rival since they’re the expansion standard that the Kraken will want to prove themselves against, and the NHL made the savvy decision to assign Vegas as Seattle’s first ever regular season opponent. The Vancouver Canucks have geographic proximity working in their favor, and they’ll be the first visitors to Climate Pledge Arena when the Kraken can finally play there on October 23. However, there’s still an entire Pacific Division to play against. The Edmonton Oilers have two Hart Trophy winners in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who will certainly cause Kraken fans to curse their names out at some point. Additionally, tempers flared enough in the second preseason match against the Oilers for Carsen Twarynski (who will report to the AHL to start the season) to drop the gloves and earn himself a fighting major. I say this because when two teams start getting into fights a lot, that’s a sure sign you’re in rivalry territory. Could Edmonton turn out to be an even larger foe for Seattle than Vegas or Vancouver, or could we be thrown a curveball and watch the main rival become one of the other Pacific Division teams? Time will tell, especially because a rivalry cannot be forced. Bad blood has to form naturally for it to truly work.

Player to watch

With an expansion team, I could give this label to just about anyone up and down the lineup. Everyone’s in a new environment, and many players are being asked to to take on larger roles than on their previous teams. An expansion team can be a place for anyone to break out and have a major impact because it is a fresh start for literally everyone.

I think the best player, though, to exemplify the opportunity an expansion franchise can give is Morgan Geekie. He made a big splash in the 2019-2020 season when he received his first NHL call-up to the Carolina Hurricanes and came roaring out to 3 goals in his first 2 games. In 36 games throughout the 2020-2021 campaign, the points dried up a bit (3 goals, 6 assists for 9 total points), but he still was a valuable fourth-liner on a strong Hurricanes team beyond what he provided to the score sheet. With only one true NHL season under his belt (that ‘19-’20 call-up was abruptly ended by the COVID-19 pause), he’s a player that still has much to learn and much to prove. Geekie knows this, and scoring 2 goals in the Kraken’s first ever preseason game against the Canucks is one way to make a statement to his new coaches that he’s ready to make the most out of this opportunity. It’ll be worth watching how he develops as a player and to see how it’s not just the top players that are important to a team’s success.

Beyond Geekie, players like Jared McCann, Alexander Wennberg, Jamie Olekisak, and Vince Dunn are some honorable mentions for this category. These are other names that will be expected to take on larger responsibilities than they have in the past - especially the centers McCann and Wennberg while projected first-liner Yanni Gourde is out for the start of the season. Keeping an eye on how these players do in their new roles will be crucial as well.

Quick season predictions

I fully believe the Kraken will make the playoffs. Part of this is a relatively weak Pacific Division making things easier, but I think Seattle’s preseason games have made enough of an impact on me to see that this team has talent. It’ll probably still be a bumpy road at the start of the season as everyone works to find that chemistry together, but the signs are there that this team can put pressure on their opponents and be tough to beat. There were signs of good passing ability, a strong forecheck, and early power play prowess. If they can keep building those skills up in the regular season, playoffs should be in sight for them. As for how far they’ll go? I wouldn’t expect them to make it past the second round (or even first depending on how opponents shake out), but precedent does exist for a team to go nearly all the way.

Another prediction I have is that the Kraken will shape up to be a strong team defensively. Their blue line is stocked with players such as Oleksiak and Dunn—who I predict will thrive in their larger roles — a Norris Trophy (or, best defenseman) winner in Mark Giordano, and other sound players such as Adam Larsson and Jérémy Lauzon. Additionally, with a Vezina Trophy (or, best goaltender) finalist like Philipp Grubauer in net, if the defense ever falters, the Kraken should be able to trust that he will bail them out. Don’t be surprised if the goals against and even shots against are minimal.

NHL: Preseason-Seattle Kraken at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

So, are you ready for the maiden voyage of the Seattle Kraken? Come join us, and subscribe to ESPN+ to ensure you’re able to catch the games. This new streaming partnership with the NHL includes games that are exclusively broadcast on ESPN+, and 7 of these games involve the Kraken (full list of exclusive games can be found here). Plus, if you live out of market (like me), ESPN+ is the streaming home to catch most Kraken broadcasts. So sign up, and (surely we’re not sick of this pun yet) let’s get kraken.