Seattle Kraken’s Vince Dunn Enjoying Dark Horse Norris Trophy Season

Among several Seattle Kraken players enjoying productive campaigns during the team’s surprising march towards a playoff spot, the play of 26-year-old Vince Dunn has been particularly inspiring.

Dunn, currently in his second season with the Kraken and sixth NHL season overall, has quickly blossomed into one of the league’s premier offensive rearguards. With 13 goals, 44 assists, and 57 points in 69 games, Dunn has already set new career highs in all three departments with 13 games remaining on the Kraken’s regular-season schedule.

As of this writing, Dunn ranks eighth among all NHL defensemen in goals and 11th in both points and assists. More remarkable is his even-strength production, where the Mississauga, Ontario native’s 42 even-strength points rank third at his position this season. By traditional measures, he’s been one of the league’s top defenders this season, and his defensive play warrants enormous plaudits from the general public.

Let’s dive into the underlying factors driving Dunn’s welcome success at both ends of the ice this season and how he should be given Norris Trophy consideration for his overall impact.

2022-23 Brings Long-Awaited Dunn Breakout

When evaluating a player’s performance, it can be difficult to parse whether a breakout season is due to said player developing their skills and abilities or whether the jump in production is simply due to greater usage. 

Judging by his per-60-minute production, Dunn has been more efficient while capitalizing on more frequent deployment. His 19:14 minutes per game at 5-on-5 are around two minutes higher than his previous high of 17:21 from last season.

Statistic (Per-60-Minutes at 5-on-5)2020-212021-222022-23
Goals0.330.240.54
Primary Assists 0.170.280.45
Total Assists 0.50.761.04
Points0.830.991.58

As mentioned, Dunn has not relied on powerplay deployment to pad his scoring totals despite playing a career-high of 2:47 minutes per night with the man advantage. Instead, Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol has leaned on Dunn in all situations, playing nearly 24 minutes a night, including 20:22 at even strength (10th in the league).

According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data (AllThreeZones), Dunn has taken on most of the workload when it comes to starting breakouts. He retrieves pucks from the defensive zone more frequently than any other defenseman on the team and facilitates the highest rate of zone exits with possession of the puck.

Dunn has botched retrievals at an above-average rate relative to his positional peers around the league, but that comes with the territory of being a puck-moving defender. He’s still effective at initiating zone transition for the Kraken and is a major contributor to why the team ranks highly in terms of successful zone exits.

With a greater emphasis on rush offense in the modern NHL, being able to cleanly start breakouts and move the puck up the ice is quickly becoming a necessary trait for success.

Related: Seattle Kraken Have A Clear Path To The 2023 NHL Playoffs  

Dunn’s impact doesn’t dip once the puck is out of his own end, as his vision and passing are key for a team with a dearth of above-average shooters.

He ranks either first or second among Kraken defenders in terms of primary shot assists, scoring chance assists, and high-danger assists, consistently finding his teammates in dangerous areas.

Getting the puck into those high-leverage locations helps the Kraken overcome their lack of shooting talent. Dunn factors heavily into this strategy, and his impact is borne out in his increased scoring numbers.

Dunn Flashing Two-Way Excellence

Not to be outdone is Dunn’s positive impact on the Kraken’s ability to control possession via shots and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Kraken account for 53.5% of all shots (SF%), 53.1% of scoring chances (SCF%), and 52.8% of the expected goals share (xGF%) when he takes the ice.

In terms of actual goals (GF%), Seattle has outscored the opposition 86-58 when Dunn plays. Though, most of that is due to Dunn benefitting from an astonishing 12.1% on-ice shooting percentage (OiSH%) and uncharacteristically strong goaltending from the Kraken netminders when he takes the ice (they rank near the bottom in overall team save percentage).

Despite carrying a reputation as a slight, offensively-minded blueliner, Dunn has been one of the NHL’s best defensemen in terms of preventing opposing zone entries and subsequent scoring chances off of those entries.

Related: 3 Seattle Kraken Storylines To Watch Post-Deadline

Most defensemen fall into one of several categories when defending zone entries. They either allow opponents to gain the zone but steer them clear of the net, gain the zone and can’t prevent them from creating a chance, or stop them before they even cross the blue line. 

Dunn is only targeted at about a league-average rate but boasts the highest zone entry denial ratio on the team, letting his stick and body positioning do most of the work. He’s not the most physical defender in the league, but he’s one of the most effective at stopping opposing transition efforts through his proactive aggression.

Dunn is the heartbeat of the team at both ends of the ice. A loaded 2022-23 Norris field will keep him away from the podium come awards time. Still, he deserves recognition for his efforts this season, and the Kraken clinching a playoff berth should hopefully be the first step in that due process.

Where Dunn Goes, So Do the Kraken

The Kraken are on the precipice of claiming the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth with less than a month to go in the season, and much of their rapid turnaround can be attributed to Dunn’s meteoric rise.

All it took was several seasons of trials and tribulations and a change of scenery for the burgeoning Norris contender to deliver on his tantalizing potential.

If Dunn can continue to orchestrate the Kraken’s offense from the backend with such poise and care, the organization should be able to set their sights higher than simply qualifying for the playoffs. 

In a weaker Western Conference (compared to the Eastern gauntlet), parity is king, and any of the collection of hopefuls should be able to envision themselves making a deep run. As Dunn goes, so do the Kraken – where will they end up by season’s end?

Data courtesy of AllThreeZonesHockey ReferenceNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 126 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.