Few teams have enjoyed as prosperous an offseason as the Seattle Kraken have through late July. They inked scoring winger Andre Burakovsky to a five-year, $27.5 million deal before finagling a strong two-way presence in Oliver Bjorkstrand for a measly price of two mid-round picks. Perhaps most notably was their success at the draft in snatching up center Shane Wright – long a consensus choice to go first overall – who surprisingly fell all the way to fourth.
In doing so, the Kraken presumably locked up their top two centers for the foreseeable future, with Wright now bolstering the team’s fledgling prospect pool alongside fellow center Matty Beniers, taken second-overall in 2021. Many executives go gray before being able to collect even a single elite pivot for their organization, giving the Kraken a crucial edge at a premium position only two years into their competitive existence.
Using recent Stanley Cup winners as a guideline, let’s dig into how having Beniers and Wright in the fold offers the Kraken concrete franchise cornerstones and sets them up for long-term success.
Cap-Era Stanley Cup Champions Led by Top Centers
Almost every Stanley Cup champion in the salary cap era has been spearheaded by at least one elite center, while some have enjoyed the luxury of icing two top-line pivots. Remember, just because they play on the third line does not mean they aren’t top-six caliber.
|Carolina Hurricanes||2005-06||Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||2008-09||Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal|
|Boston Bruins||2010-11||Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci|
|Los Angeles Kings||2011-12||Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter|
|Boston Bruins||2012-13||Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci|
|Los Angeles Kings||2013-14||Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||2015-16, 2017-18||Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin|
|Washington Capitals||2017-18||Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Kuznetsov|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||2019-20, 2020-21||Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point|
|Colorado Avalanche||2021-22||Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri|
The most noticeable omission is the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Cups since 2010 and which had Jonathan Toews briefly challenge Sidney Crosby for the title of the NHL’s best two-way center. The 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks reached the Cup Final with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler manning the middle. The 2015-16 San Jose Sharks boasted all of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture, all capable of playing within the top six at center.
By no means does having an elite center or two guarantees a title, nor are they the only components of a championship squad, but recent history points to the best teams sporting a sturdy spine guided by a star pivot.
Having Elite Centers Offers Roster Flexibility
Given how the center position is the most in-demand, having one or two top players at the position allows teams to refresh their rosters when the time comes. The Penguins during the Crosby-Malkin era are perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. From Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Max Talbot, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, James Neal, Petr Sykora… the list is endless. All are good to great complementary wingers in their own right, but each saw their game elevated while skating alongside two of the best centers of this generation.
Several of those players were cycled or phased out once they aged out of their primes, only to be replaced by a newer, shinier, and most importantly, cheaper model. The Penguins have made a habit of unearthing unheralded gems; it’s sort of their thing.
That’s not to say that Beniers and Wright are or will ever reach the heights exhibited by two future Hall-of-Famers, but the sentiment is the same. The center position is the most expensive spot in the lineup to fill, and having two homegrown talents coming in on entry-level contracts only gives the organization that much more flexibility in constructing a roster worthy of Stanley Cup contention down the line.
Kraken Ready to Make a Splash in 2022-23
For all of the progress that the Kraken have made this summer, they are still not a lock to claim their first-ever playoff spot. Their forward group has improved immensely, but they lack true elite talent at all three positions, although one or both of Beniers and Wright could one day hit that level.
Despite losing ground in pre-draft rankings, Wright still enjoyed a productive draft year in the OHL, tallying 94 points in 63 games for a strong but not elite Kingston Frontenacs squad. Industry insiders still tout his hockey sense and commitment to fulfilling his defensive responsibilities, but some have soured on his offensive ceiling after a lost season due to COVID.
One year after being taken by the Kraken, Beniers leaped forward in his development, scoring nine points in his first 10 NHL games after concluding his collegiate career. He finished 14th in scoring (43 points in 37 games) for the NCAA Division I Michigan Wolverines and suited up for the United States at the Olympics, posting two points in four games. Even if both face turbulence in their rookie seasons (Beniers is still eligible for the Calder Trophy), the future is bright in the Pacific Northwest.
Even so, the rest of their Pacific Division foes have either improved marginally, gone sideways, or even saw their own talent pool deplete. If the new additions inject sorely-needed scoring in tandem with Philipp Grubauer regaining his form, challenging for the postseason is within the realm of possibility. If nothing else, Seattle should be much more exciting to watch next season, welcome news for long-suffering fans of the Kraken.