The second draft class in Seattle Kraken history is complete! General manager Ron Francis and co. didn’t do much wheeling and dealing — one mid-round trade was all we got, and no player movement whatsoever. Instead, Seattle stuck to their draft board and ended up with 11 new faces joining the franchise.
Theme of the day: Offense, offense offense
The thing that jumps out the most about this draft class is just how offensive it is. No, not offensive in a bad way, but offensive as in these players can score. The Kraken had five picks in the first two rounds, and spent exactly none of them on defensemen. Instead, they got four forwards (plus a goalie), and each of those forwards scored at more than a point-per-game pace last season with their respective amateur teams. When they did finally take a defender, they went with Ty Nelson — and sure, I guess he’s technically a defenseman, though you don’t often see defenders doing stuff like this:
The Kraken finished 28th in the NHL last season in goals scored, and 24th in goals allowed. The goaltending got a lot of attention (deservedly so, considering it was supposed to be a position of strength) but the offense really didn’t have many places to point to and say “oh, well that’s where it’s going to get better next year.” Seattle needs to score more goals in order to win more hockey games. With this draft class, they took as many shots at finding those goal scorers as they could. If even a handful turn into productive offensive forwards, the future will be bright.
They really got Shane Wright
The centerpiece of this draft was always going to be the No. 4 pick, even if it wasn’t Shane Wright. Fortunately for the Kraken, it was in fact Shane Wright — the player that’s been expected to be the top pick of the 2022 draft for more than three years, ever since he was granted exceptional status to play in the Ontario Hockey League at just 15 years old. Since then, he’s scored 160 points in 121 OHL games, and would’ve had a lot more had he not missed an entire season of development when the 2020-21 OHL season was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. In short, know that there really shouldn’t be a reason to worry about the fact that he did slide a few spots at the top of this draft.
The biggest question now is just how soon we’ll see Wright stepping onto the ice in Climate Pledge Arena. Will he head straight to the NHL, or go back to the junior leagues for one more season a la Matty Beniers? If you ask Wright, there’s no question where he wants to be.
He has enough talent that he really could make the NHL club this coming season. And frankly, he will make the team at the beginning of the year. It’s game 10 that we really should be keeping an eye on.
Let’s back up for a second: Beniers played college hockey, in the NCAA. If he signed his pro contract, he would’ve been ineligible to go back and play in college. Wright, however, plays in the OHL — a completely different set of circumstances. He can sign a pro contract and still go back to the OHL. More importantly, if he plays fewer than 10 games, he can get sent back to the OHL and won’t burn a year of his NHL contract. A prime example of this was the Islanders’ Mat Barzal. After signing his entry-level contract in 2015, he made it two games into the regular season for the Isles in 2016 before getting sent back to the Seattle Thunderbirds. He got another year of development, won a WHL Championship, came back to New York the following season and became the NHL’s rookie of the year. And the Islanders got three full seasons from him on that team-friendly entry-level deal, because those first two games in 2016 weren’t enough to count as a full season in regards to his contract.
Wright has a great shot at playing in the NHL all year for Seattle. There’s plenty of roster spots up for grabs. Just keep this in the back of your head for the first couple weeks of the season, because his status on the NHL team could still have an air of uncertainty until he hits game 10.
A goalie? In the second round?
The general scouting consensus on this year’s goalie class was…well, there wasn’t much of a consensus to speak of. Goaltenders generally have a much longer development curve than either forwards or defenders. With a full season recently wiped out by the pandemic, many goalies in this draft class missed a lot of that development, and didn’t have as much (or as good) film for scouts to analyze as they would in a typical year. Many top-100 prospect rankings didn’t even list a goalie because they were viewed as one large ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The Buffalo Sabres broke the seal on goaltenders early in the second round, and the Kraken were quick to follow suit with their selection of Niklas Kokko at pick No. 58. Kokko is a 6’3 Finnish goaltender that’s spent his career in the Finnish U20 league to this point, but is expected to join Oulun Kärpät in the Liiga for the 2022-23 season. He posted a .914 save percentage and a very impressive 6 shutouts in just 29 games.
Kokko is not coming in to replace Philipp Grubauer this year. Or next year.
Goalies need games to develop and turn into NHL starters. That takes time. The Kraken took Kokko in the hope that he can contribute to the club down the road, but by no means is he expected to make that immediate impact. They drafted a goalie last year as well (Semyon Vyazovoy out of the Russian MHL). It’s not a bad idea to draft a goalie every year.
Ron Francis will have a tough decision to make later this season in regards to his goaltenders. Chris Driedger is sidelined for the first few months of the season, so we’re on track to see Philipp Grubauer and Joey Daccord as the two top goalies on the team to begin the year. Once Driedger comes back, Daccord will need to pass through waivers in order to get sent down to Coachella Valley, which gives every other NHL team a chance to bring him to their roster. The Kraken would get nothing in return. Seattle will probably lose one of their top three goalies at some point this season.
Couple that with the long development curve for goaltenders, and it really makes a ton of sense to see Seattle jump on one they really liked so early in the draft this year. We can use Grubauer’s development curve as an example here. Grubauer was drafted in 2010, made his NHL debut in 2012, and played 20+ games in a season for the first time in 2015. At that pace, Kokko won’t be ready for significant NHL duties until 2027, which just so happens to be the year Grubauer’s contract expires.
Keep stockpiling those goalies, because it’s incredibly hard to predict what the team will look like by the time those goalies are ready for action.
Wingers come in all shapes and sizes
Most of the forwards the Kraken drafted this year play the center position, but two of them are primarily wingers — Jagger Firkus and Jani Nyman. And they couldn’t look more different.
Firkus is 5’10 and 151 lbs (160, if you ask him). Nyman, on the other hand, is 6’4, 217 lbs. These guys play the same position, and they both play it supremely well.
Firkus has the skills to be a first-round prospect, if he had Nyman’s size. Nyman probably goes in the first if he has Firkus’ skating ability. Firkus makes his living with smart plays with the puck in the offensive zone, great stick handling and a great shot. Nyman is great at using his size to keep defenders off the puck, and has a great shot as well. These two guys add great depth to the right side of the offense — a right side that as it stands now is just Jordan Eberle and three question marks. With these back-to-back picks, the Kraken gave themselves a great chance at least one legitimate scoring threat on the right side of their forward corps for the years to come.
Just the one trade
Seattle didn’t send away any picks in exchange for players. Nor did they use up those second rounders in a play to get back into the first round on Thursday. They were patient, and let the draft come to them. Get as many bites at the apple as possible and you give yourself your best shot at finding NHL-caliber skaters.
However, as the third round neared its end, Francis pulled the trigger on what was a somewhat puzzling trade. The Kraken gave up picks 117 and 132 in order to move up to pick 91. Before we look at the pick, let’s talk about the trade itself. Draft value charts are far more common in the NFL than they are in the NHL, but they do exist for hockey — you just might have to look a little harder. There are two charts we can use to break down this trade: that of Eric Tulsky (current assistant general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes), who used prior pick trades to quantify how teams valued different draft picks in real life trades, and that of Dom Luczyszyn, who used NHL performance statistics to quantify how much on-ice value could be expected from every pick position. No matter which model you use, the trade was essentially as fair as a trade could be. Seattle didn’t lose any value in moving up here.
As for the pick, it’s a bit of a mystery box, as Sky put it. Most people don’t scout high school hockey as much as they do the CHL, the European leagues, and US college hockey. There just isn’t much out there on Harvard commit Ben MacDonald. He did, however, show up as the 50th ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final prospect rankings. Which means the Kraken are not alone in thinking this offensive-minded center has NHL potential.
It’s all offense for Seattle this offseason (so far). That could change when free agency begins, and we’ll break down what that means for the Kraken this week. But as for this draft, there’s nothing but high upside to see here.