4 Seattle Kraken Observations – Beniers, Grubauer, And More

The 2022-23 season is barely a few weeks old, but that won’t stop me from making a few observations about how the Seattle Kraken are faring and which trends are already emerging. Some are familiar developments – like receiving below-average goaltending – and others pleasantly unfamiliar – such as a noticeably more potent attack. Regardless, they’re all combining to create a more entertaining sequel to the Kraken’s underwhelming inaugural campaign, which, as far as fans of a recent expansion team go, is about all you can ask for in the end. 

So, after a middling 2-3-2 start to the season, here are four intriguing trends and observations to take note of as the Kraken progress further into the 2022-23 campaign.

Beniers Making Early Calder Trophy Push

As I covered in depth last week, the Kraken’s young center Matty Beniers has emerged as an early frontrunner in the Calder Trophy race. The rookie pivot is among the freshman leaders in a number of significant statistical categories at both ends of the ice. 

Statistic (All Situations)BeniersRookie Rank
Scoring Chances11Tied-5th
Expected Goals1.741st
Penalties Drawn41st
Average Time-on-Ice18:255th (1st among forwards)

Beniers’ counting stats are impressive in their own right, but perhaps more of a compliment to his impact and importance to the team is his usage. The American plays nearly 19 minutes a night in all situations – tops among forwards – and also sits second on his own team in average ice time. In his minutes at 5v5, the Kraken own a 54.5% share of expected goals (xGF%), 52.7% of shots (SF%), and 50% of high-danger chances (HDCF%), positioning him as a net-positive skater despite his inexperience. 

At this rate, Beniers’ faceoff prowess appears to be his only significant weakness (only winning 38.2% of his draws, but that’s not an unfamiliar phenomenon for most first-year players. A mixture of getting stronger and collecting more reps in the dot should gradually increase his percentages. Even though a sub-40% win rate is undesirable, his play outside of those few seconds taking a faceoff more than makes up for his minor shortcomings.

Related: 2022-2023 NHL Season Preview And Award Predictions

Despite boasting fewer than 20 NHL games to his name, Beniers is not a liability at either end of the ice and already looks like an integral figure in the Kraken’s competitive future. If he continues to put up points while featuring heavily in all situations for Seattle, it will be difficult for voters to send Calder Trophy votes in any other direction.

Kraken Goaltenders Struggling…Again

The story of the Kraken’s return to NHL play was their historically inept goaltending, with their team save percentage (SV%) of .880 sitting last in the entire league last season. Their awful showing wasn’t down to their skaters’ poor defensive play. In fact, the Kraken ranked fourth in both 5v5 shots (SA/60) and expected goals (xGA/60) against per-60-minutes, while also finishing fifth in scoring chances against (SCA/60), providing elite team defense by any definition. 

By goals saved above expected (GSAx), which accounts for the quality of chances a goalie faces, Philipp Grubauer allowed the fourth-most goals above expected since 2007-08, the first season the statistic was tracked. Simply put, there is no offense that is strong enough to overcome such a significant deficiency.

Despite the troubles in the crease, the hope entering the season was that the goaltenders would improve with a less chaotic summer and increased familiarity with the team’s system. Through the first handful of games, however, it’s been more of the same.

Grubauer, along with new backup Martin Jones, have combined for an .860 SV% (29th in the NHL), and both rank within the bottom 10 of GSAx. The Kraken are once again icing a capable defensive unit, sitting fourth in 5v5 SA/60 and sixth in xGA/60, but their netminders haven’t held up their end of the bargain. Considering Seattle’s attack looks much more formidable with their offseason additions, the goaltending struggles loom even larger.

Kraken Offense Much-Improved Over 2021-22

After their underwhelming showing in 2021-22, this past offseason saw the franchise introduce several offensive reinforcements through trade (Oliver Bjorkstrand), free agency (Andre Burakovsky and Justin Schultz), and having Beniers join the fold. 

Jared McCann was the Kraken’s leading scorer last season (50 points), a stark illustration of the team’s impotent offense. Seattle ranked 29th in goals and shots per game, as well as in overall powerplay efficiency, doing the team no favors when it came to overcoming their poor goaltending. What is promising, however, is that their summer moves appear to be working as intended and have pushed them into the top half of team offense.

2021-22 NHL RankStatistic2022-23 NHL Rank
29thGoals Per Game20th
26th5v5 Scoring Chances Per-60-Minutes14th
30th5v5 Expected Goals Per-60-Minutes8th 
29th5v5 High-Danger Chances Per-60-Minutes13th
29thPowerplay %10th

One should remember that the season is still young and that some numbers could (and likely will) fluctuate in the coming weeks. Still, the attack looks much more fluid in the early going, and four players are on pace to eclipse McCann’s team-leading scoring total from last year. If the net-minding does not improve, all eyes will be on the offense to pick up the slack.

Head Coach Dave Hakstol on the Hot Seat

Despite just entering his second year on the job, there exists a growing sentiment that head coach Dave Hakstol could get the axe if the Kraken get off to a particularly slow start. They’ve only won two of their first seven games and have a negative-7 goal differential, driven mainly by underperformance in the crease. Their .430 points percentage (SV%) represents a 70-point rate over a full season which would be a marginal improvement over last season but well short of clinching a playoff spot.

The triumvirate of the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers look to be the class of the Pacific Division, so that leaves the remaining teams to jockey for a wildcard slot. It’s still extremely early, so most teams are within a hot week of each other, but there is no reason that the Kraken cannot keep pace with the other Western Conference clubs, especially since they all have notable weaknesses of their own.

Related: Mandrycky Promotion Demonstrates Seattle Kraken’s Modern Organizational Approach

A full season from Beniers and their aforementioned offseason additions should give the former Philadelphia Flyers’ bench boss the offensive weapons he needs to complement the Kraken’s sturdy even-strength defense. Hakstol could be sunk by subpar goaltending despite his sound structural philosophies, but the NHL is a results business, and owners are typically not renowned for their patience. At this point, Hakstol can only hope he lasts long enough to see the percentages regress in his favor.

Fate of the 2022-23 Season Still Up in the Air

For all of the bemoaning, the season isn’t even ten games old, leaving plenty of time for worrying trends to correct and for the Kraken to make a concerted push for their first-ever playoff appearance.

Their still-fresh status as expansion darlings affords them additional leeway with the fans, although their patience has already been tested. It’s difficult not to be envious of the immediate success of their expansion cousins in the Vegas Golden Knights, even if replicating such a feat was historically improbable.

Despite an inconsistent start to season number two in Seattle, the Kraken are proving to be a more viable entertainment product than in their first go-around. I plan to revisit these trends later on in the season to see which proved to be an indication of things to come and which were little more than an early-season mirage. For now, let’s enjoy the ride. 

Data courtesy of Hockey ReferenceMoneyPuckNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL. Statistics are accurate as of October 25th.

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About Marko Zlomislic 116 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.