Seattle Kraken Should Use Rest Of 2023-24 Season To Build For 2024-25

After staying within striking distance of a Western Conference wildcard spot for most of the second half of the 2023-24 season, it appears as though the Seattle Kraken’s efforts will ultimately be futile, even after a systematic 4-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. 

The win snapped the team’s eight-game losing streak, the second time such a streak has happened this season. It was also the team’s fourth losing streak of four games or more this season, perfectly encapsulating how the campaign has unfolded to date.

Though not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Kraken are quickly running out of runway. With a 29-29-13 record (71 points), the team sits 15 points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second and final wildcard slot, with the Kraken holding a game in hand.

If the Kraken win all of their 11 remaining games in regulation (the first standings tiebreaker after total points), they finish the season with a maximum of 93 points and 34 regulation wins (RW). They currently have 23 RW and 26 wins in regulation plus overtime (ROW).

Those numbers give the Golden Knights a clear benchmark to hit in their quest to clinch a berth in the postseason. If they earn eight more points in any fashion, Seattle will be unable to catch them for the final spot. If they earn seven or fewer and the Kraken match their final point total, RW and ROW will come into play.

Related: Seattle Kraken Post-Trade Deadline 2024 NHL Playoff Outlook

At this point, the Kraken have no one to blame for their missteps other than themselves, and their poor play since the start of February has been sinking them further and further out of playoff contention.

As of February 1st, the Kraken were only two points behind the St. Louis Blues for the final wildcard spot with a record of 21-19-10 after 50 games. Since then, they’ve gone 8-10-3 over a 21-game stretch, which included losses to the Golden Knights (twice), Minnesota Wild, and the Nashville Predators, all teams that the Kraken were either chasing or jostling with for playoff positioning. Public projection models from MoneyPuckThe Athletic, and Hockey Reference all give them less than a 1% chance of qualifying for the postseason, so barring a miracle, expect them to miss out.

Though such an outcome is a massive disappointment, it’s not all doom and gloom for the organization. The front office and coaching staff now has the opportunity to get a head start on evaluating a handful of their promising young players and minor-league prospects without the underlying pressure of needing results.

I’ve made my feelings on the topic known on one or two occasions, and those sentiments have not changed with the regular season winding down. Let’s dive into which assets the Kraken have moving forward and how a few ripe up-and-comers can play a significant role at the NHL level down the stretch.

Kraken Have Pieces to Build on Disappointing 2023-24 Season

Despite an underwhelming follow-up campaign to their first appearance in the playoffs, the Kraken have the difficult part of building a contender figured out for the most part, with a sparkling youth movement bubbling under the surface.

The privilege of being an expansion team and a dismal debut season gave the organization a pair of valuable lottery picks in Matty Beniers (second overall in 2021) and Shane Wright (fourth overall in 2022), both centers who figure to feature heavily in the Kraken’s long-term plans.

Beniers has struggled mightily on the offensive end in his second full season in the NHL. The 21-year-old center only has 11 goals, 20 assists, and 31 points in 66 games after a brilliant rookie season in which his 24 goals and 57 points earned him the 2022-23 Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. 

There’s reason for optimism despite the startling drop in scoring. Beniers’ individual (9.5%) and on-ice (8.85%) shooting percentages in all situations are about a third less than they were last season, suggesting he’s the unfortunate victim of poor puck-luck and expected regression from extraordinarily unsustainable finishing rates at both the individual and team level.

Wright endured a tumultuous 2022-23 campaign, flitting between juniors, the NHL, and the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Wright and the Firebirds made it all the way to the Calder Cup Final last season before losing in Game Seven to the Hershey Bears, so at least his season concluded with some much-needed development.

Wright has only appeared in three NHL games this season (zero points) but has put forth a strong showing in his first full season as a professional. He has tallied 20 goals and 43 points in 55 games in the AHL to rank fifth on the team in scoring, with both marks good enough to rank within the top 10 of all rookie skaters.

Defenseman Ryker Evans has been one of the organization’s fastest risers over the past two seasons. The 22-year-old scored 70 points in 97 regular-season and playoff games for the Firebirds last season in his first professional campaign and followed that up with 15 points in 25 AHL games to start the year. He earned a call-up to the Kraken and has eight points in 25 games, showing flashes of the skill he flaunted in his break-out efforts in the AHL last season.

Winger Eeli Tolvanen – plucked off of waivers midway through last season – has continued to progress in his development. He ranks fourth on the Kraken with 16 goals in 71 games this year and sixth over the past two seasons with 32 total tallies.

Jared McCann looks poised to score 30 goals for the second consecutive season and only turns 28 this spring. He may be out of his prime by the time the Kraken are true contenders, but it never hurts to have someone capable of finishing at an above-average rate on the roster.

Vince Dunn has blossomed into a top-pairing defender after being left unprotected by the Blues ahead of the Kraken’s expansion draft. The blueliner has tallied 45 points in 57 games this season and ranks ninth in goals and 12th in points by a defenseman over the past two campaigns. He was dropped into Seattle’s laps, and they’re all the better for it.

With almost nothing to play for in terms of playoff positioning, a number of injuries to key players, and several free agents coming off the books, it’s time to hand the keys over to the youth.

Kraken on Right Path to Stanley Cup Contention

There’s no sugarcoating it—the Kraken significantly underperformed expectations this season, even while factoring in an expected drop in scoring rates. A surprising first-round playoff upset over the defending Stanley Cup champions in the 2023 Playoffs was a great experience for the group, but perhaps it set the bar too high for a repeat performance in 2023-24.

Being eliminated from playoff contention can easily be viewed as a negative, but it doesn’t have to be interpreted that way. The Kraken now have leeway when it comes to auditioning fresh faces and testing out new lineup constructions, with an eye towards qualifying for the 2025 Playoffs. Promising prospects knocking at the door and a handful of pending free agents likely coming off the books promise changes to the roster in 2024-25, for better or worse.

The Kraken are by no means a world beater just yet, but the main pieces are in place. The Athletic’s prospect guru, Scott Wheeler, placed the organization’s prospect pool in 12th in his 2024 midseason rankings, an improvement from 15th in the same rankings from a year ago. 

Even if Wright graduates into a full-time role in the NHL next season, a potential top-10 lottery pick in this summer’s draft and a total of five picks over the first three rounds suggest that the Kraken’s prospect pipeline will be anything but barren over the next few seasons.

It’s true that goaltender Joey Daccord may never reach the heights of this season again (.917 SV% in 46 games) or that the Kraken’s highly-touted prospects fail to pan out. Still, there is a solid foundation for the organization to build upon. It’s time to put the pieces together and take the next step in their competitive evolution.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 122 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.