Welcome to our last weekend before the Preseason begins. Hockey is so close you can almost taste it.
Mercifully, the Kraken aren’t like a lot of their Western Conference counterparts where there’s a million potential issues coming ahead of them, especially in-division. Really just a trio of questions that should be figured out by October 10th.
Still, it’s nice to ask them! So let’s see what concerns coming into preseason need addressing?
1. Who will win the battle for Backup Goaltender?
With Martin Jones enjoying the entirety of Toronto insisting they weren’t owned, the backup spot has been freed up for either one of Chris Driedger or Joey Daccord to take the spot he left behind. As for who gets it…it’s up in the air as to who’s in the lead.
Driedger’s seniority definitely counts for something; he’s had this job before, and as the slightly older player he will likely be seen as more experienced.
One small problem, however. Joey Daccord appears to have shown up big time.
Joey Daccord took Driedger’s injury as a major opportunity to establish himself, and he went from a “maybe” goaltender to a strong AHL netminder, who had a .918 SV% and a 28-8-3 record in the regular season, and an unbelievable playoffs; getting the Firebirds all the way to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals.
Leaving a battlefield of 5 games (6 if you count the Double-header on Monday) for one of these two to command a role early. Given that the back half of pre-season is being done in western Canada, this will be a prime opportunity to see what these two can do in the kind of conditions they’ll likely be called upon to appear; as part of long road trips against any particular foe. Even if it’s Connor McDavid or Elias Petterson coming at them.
2. Is there space for Tye Kartye or Ryker Evans on this roster?
Tye Kartye raised eyebrows in his time in the NHL Playoffs; being an absolutely incredible player in the face of the deep uncertainty of having to have his NHL Debut when the games mattered most, and showed up not only on time, but ready to party; contributing here and there to an otherwise phenomenal first real exposure to NHL game time. While not receiving the same opportunity as Kartye, Ryker Evans showed in the AHL this year that he could be a potentially game-changing defender if given the chance; getting 44 points in 71 games, and was an actual point-per-game player in the AHL Playoffs, and finished the year with plaudits for having the most assists by an AHL rookie with 38.
Which puts the Kraken in a bit of an awkward spot. Namely in that the Kraken may not actually have space for them this year.
In fairness, the spots they’d be almost guaranteed on the wing and on defense are currently being held up by guys who are here in the Pacific Northwest on extremely short deals; they will absolutely get another chance if they cannot beat out Kailer Yamamoto and Brian Dumoulin/Cale Fleury for spots on the main roster. But given just how incredible Kartye started his playoffs, the thought of what he could be like as a mainline NHLer is just so tantalizing…even if it means the wing for Seattle is absolutely crammed.
Evans meanwhile, I think has a slightly better chance if only for one major reason: speed and efficiency. Dumoulin’s season last year was marred by injury and while he did ultimately post positive possession results, it took him a long time to get back there, and if there’s still a part of the defensive corps that needs a mild upgrade, I’d wager that footspeed; something Evans has in spades, could be his big X-factor towards getting the Ice Blue S on his sweater.
Still, both should come out of the gate swinging, and if the goal is to make the NHL, they need to make Ron Francis and Dave Hakstol’s job as hard as possible.
3. Now that Shane Wright has his exemption, will he actually need it?
Sean spoke at a well-thought out length about the expectations of Shane Wright this year. Mercifully, Wright finally has his exemption from the OHL, and can return to the AHL if he is sent down for further seasoning.
The big keyword here being “if”, because if you’ve asked him like many of the MSM has, he’s going to do what it takes to stick around.
If anyone needs a rebound to get people excited again, it’s Shane Wright. He spent most of the Prospect Camps and Rookie Camp trying his hardest to be a difference-maker out on the ice, and has definitely learned the value of patience and of putting in work off-ice to become a better player, but will have to be a major force of good in those early days of the preseason when the lineup will be predominantly prospects, and then continue that as more seasoned NHLers make their way back into the lineup. At all times, he will likely be in fierce competition with Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, who may not be nearly as exciting as an offensive player, but is well known for his defensive acumen. He’ll need to make a strong push to be the 4th line center at the ripe age of 19 at every facet of the game.
Mercifully this time, there’s a more clear cut answer to what happens if he doesn’t; he’s just a short flight away at all times.
All these questions and all sorts of new developments await the Kraken as we finally…finally…inch towards the preseason game. Even if it’s a goofy double-scrimmage with the Calgary Flames, that’s still hockey worth watching.
I cannot wait.