With NHL training camps commencing this week, the Seattle Kraken will finally hit the ice for the first time as a united group. Although the offseason frenzy sculpted the vague outline of an opening-night lineup, several specific positions have yet to be secured, and training camp is but the first of many arenas offering a place for rabid competition over roster spots.
This may very well be the most coveted opening in the lineup, and Yanni Gourde’s prolonged recovery from offseason surgery casts doubt on which of the remaining Kraken will step up and decisively make the role their own. A disconcerting lack of depth means that a fascinating ensemble of characters will audition for the role in the weeks spanning the training camp and pre-season itineraries.
Of those who have side-stepped the Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) list, Jared McCann and Alexander Wennberg represent the principal candidates to center the Kraken’s primary scoring line. McCann’s production skyrocketed for the Penguins last season, scoring 32 points in 43 regular-season games – a 61-point-pace across an entire 82-game season. A contributing factor to McCann’s success was his consistent appearance on Sidney Crosby’s wing, a premium assignment as any in the NHL. However, likely first-line wingers Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz are no slouches either.
Wennberg’s scoring output was less eye-popping, with the Swede only tallying 29 points in 56 games for the Florida Panthers last season in a sheltered role behind Alex Barkov and Vincent Trocheck. It tracks that McCann would be the more likely of the pair to recreate his heady production level, but his point totals were partially buoyed by an astronomical 15.1 shooting percentage.
The outcome of this battle will be determined by who first acclimates to the Kraken system and demonstrates an immediate return on investment. With Gourde scheduled to return after the New Year, the next few months will be a period underscored by anxiousness over one’s place in the lineup, and a robust application in the interim may not suffice.
Several formidable aspirants will wrestle for the honor of flanking the Kraken’s second-line center this season. The quartet of Calle Jarnkrok, Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Tanev, and Mason Appleton put forth an application for this vacancy, with their career portfolio’s illustrating a history of rotating around the lineup in a pinch.
Doonskoi is the leading contender for the role at the moment, as his career goals-per-game average of just over 16 resembles the most effective rate among those not named Eberle or Schwartz. Calle Jarknork follows closely, with a career average of 15 goals-per-game paired with a reliable forechecking routine. Tanev has found his niche as a bottom-of-the-lineup spark-plug by haphazardly heaving his massive frame at anything that moves, which suggests that his talents are wasted on the secondary scoring unit.
However, Mason Appleton is the most compelling of the four, as the 6-foot-2 forward blossomed after a season in which he breached an all-time-high in time-on-ice, with his 14 minutes a night a significant three minutes over his previous career-best. His captivating brand of physical carnage paired with a deft scoring touch around the net presents a particularly difficult assignment for opposing defenders in their painstaking attempts to clear the crease.
While the exact configuration of the second-line is currently undetermined, Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol will be left with no shortage of capable options, with each providing a unique dimension to the team’s overall strategy.
First-Unit Power Play Defenseman
In a momentous struggle that pits the Kraken’s elder statesman in Mark Giordano against Seattle’s rising star in Vince Dunn, two viable candidates will contend for the plum gig of orchestrating the top power play unit.
As the unmistakable insignia of Calgary Flames hockey over the past decade, Giordano regularly dictated the machinations of the team’s power play, accruing at least 20 points with a man-advantage in a season three times across his storied tenure in Calgary.
However, Giordano has watched his role diminish over the past two seasons as Rasmus Andersson began to strengthen his grip as the primary conductor on the power play. The reduction has been due to a combination of Giordano’s gradual age-related decline (Father Time comes for us all) and the franchise collectively sensing that it was in the best interest of its future health to steadily hand Andersson a greater deal of responsibility and develop alongside the next iteration of the Flames.
In a cruel twist of fate, Giordano’s main adversary is another spry blue liner in Vince Dunn, who experienced something of a career resurgence after being thrown into a role that demanded more of his offensive capabilities. Despite seeing less ice-time on the power play than his teammate Torey Krug, Dunn appeared composed in generating points at a much higher per-60-minute rate. If given free rein over the primary unit in Seattle, Dunn would be the trendy choice for an explosive breakout season.
Thus, Seattle must adjudicate a pressing problem – strive for immediate success by leaning on an honorary member of the NHL’s old guard or shepherd a gifted rearguard yet to secure consistent assignments alongside a team’s most prolific offensive stars. A word to Ron Francis and company – choose wisely.
So, Who Is Kraken the Lineup?
As the season progresses, the Kraken will experiment and fiddle with their ideal lineup, likely rotating several players through a procession of front-line roles. The absence of any tangible expectations offers Seattle a forgiving backdrop for what is often a frustrating cycle of trial-and-error. Before the ink dries on a set playing arrangement, the battles fervently raging in training camp will prepare the expansion franchise for the rigors of an entire season, and one that is likely to contain a plethora of obstacles on the road to success.