With only four games left on the schedule and a dreadful 26-46-6 record to go along with it, the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural NHL season is mercifully approaching its conclusion. Apart from earning another high lottery pick to add to their stable of prospects, the end of the season is offering several positive developments ahead of next year. Loyal readers should be familiar with my love for defenceman Vince Dunn, and his improving play once again takes center stage. Let’s dig into why Dunn is poised to take the next step in his professional evolution and enjoy a true breakout season in 2022-23.
Giordano Trade Creates Dunn’s Big Chance
The biggest impediment to a potential Dunn breakout this season was the presence of several more established veterans on the Kraken blueline. Up until the NHL’s trade deadline on March 21st, Dunn played an average of 19:58 minutes per night, third among their defensemen. That usage was roughly in line with his final season with the St. Louis Blues (19:14), but he still lagged behind the grizzled Mark Giordano in all situations and on the power play. Even so, he led the team’s defenders in scoring (26 points in 58 games), which likely contributed to the Kraken’s willingness to part ways with the elder Giordano.
Along with forward Colin Blackwell, the Kraken traded Giordano to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a pair of second-round draft picks and one third-round selection. In one fell swoop, Dunn’s pathway to greater usage at even-strength and on the man-advantage was cleared. It’s been over a month since the deadline, and by Dunn’s performance in an expanded role, he looks set to take the NHL by storm next season.
Dunn’s Post-deadline Play Suggests Breakout 2022-23 Season
The Kraken have played 15 games since the trade deadline and have accrued a record of 7-8-0 with a points percentage rate (PTS%) of .467. It’s a marked improvement from their league-worst .329 PTS% over the rest of the season, and their increased competitiveness is driven by Dunn making the most of his newfound opportunity.
Dunn has scored nine points (nine assists) in those 15 games, second on the team in scoring behind Jared McCann across that time frame. Among qualified NHL blueliners (minimum five games), his 0.6 points-per-game (P/GP) ranks 35th in the deadline’s aftermath. Even with the boost in ice time (playing over 23 minutes since the deadline), his offensively-challenged supporting cast hasn’t changed, which explains why his production hasn’t fully exploded in accordance with the elevated usage.
Prior to Giordano’s exit, Dunn scored at an 82-game pace of 37 points. Dunn’s 0.6 P/GP since his departure translates to 49 points over the course of the entire season. With a full season to spread his wings, gradual progression in his game, and the introduction of more skilled teammates, a 50-point campaign should be within his sights.
Regardless, the slight uptick in his scoring rate is a promising sign, as players with high efficiency often struggle to maintain their previous output when facing stronger competition and being handed a dramatically heavier workload in terms of ice-time. The offensive production is one thing, though, the defensive aspect is one thing that must be addressed for Dunn to reach the pinnacle of his potential.
Hakstol Must Find Dunn’s Ideal Defense Partner
Although Dunn is beginning to realize his offensive capabilities, his two-way prowess has yet to make the same ascent. Depending on your place in the quantity versus quality debate, his possession results are a mixed bag. Although the Kraken control 50.2 percent of the shots at 5v5 (SF%) and 49.1 percent of scoring chances (SCF%) with Dunn on the ice, he’s lost the quality battle. Seattle accounts for only 44.5 percent of high-danger chances (HDCF%) and 46.6 percent of expected goals (xGF%) when Dunn plays. There’s bound to be an adjustment period with any young defender in the NHL, and he’s no exception.
One way to expedite the process is to pair the emerging Dunn with a competent, defensively accountable partner who can mask his deficiencies. Let’s take a look at his most common defensive partners this season (minimum 100 minutes together) to see if there are any in-house candidates to step up in that role.
|TOI (Total Minutes)
After a cursory glance through Dunn’s most common partners, Carson Soucy emerges as the most suitable tandem option of the defensemen currently on the roster. Although they’ve spent the shortest time together, the Dunn-Soucy pairing approaches break even in most 5v5 metrics, which can’t be said of the two other blueliners. Dunn’s lack of success alongside Adam Larsson is surprising given the Swede’s reputation as a defensive stalwart, but sometimes the chemistry just isn’t present.
I did not include Giordano since he is no longer part of the team, but Dunn had his best results alongside the 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner this season. In just over 100 minutes at 5v5, their pairing accrued a 60.4 percent SF%, 57.7 percent xGF%, and 55.9% of SCF%. Their miserable 40% share of actual goals at 5v5 clouded their reputation, but the two posted stellar results in their very small sample of games. Interestingly, Giordano is known as a dependable puck-mover, so perhaps that’s the quality to look for in Dunn’s next partner.
Is 2022-23 Dunn’s Breakout Season?
With Giordano out of the picture, there is no other defenseman currently on the Kraken roster who occupies the same role as the attacking-minded Dunn. Unless general manager Ron Francis signs one in free agency this summer, all signs point to the 25-year-old blueliner being unleashed next season. He has some defensive warts, but his talent with the puck on his stick outweighs those shortcomings. If he takes the next step in his development, the Kraken are that much closer to earning their first-ever playoff appearance. I say he does it.