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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – SEATTLE KRAKEN – Team Preview – Player Profiles

REVIEW: Unlike Vegas’ amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, Seattle had a miserable first NHL campaign, but any Kraken fans who were prepared for a long, painful road to competitiveness were pleasantly surprised when Seattle posted a 46-28-8 record in 2022-23. Seattle turnaround was fueled by the squad scoring 73 additional goals compared to the prior year, flipping them from being among the worst teams offensively to one of the best. Rather than be led by some new acquisition, their scoring renaissance was fueled by returning Kraken players Jared McCann, Matthew Beniers and Jaden Schwartz combining to score an extra 47 goals more than the trio mustered in 2021-22. At the same time, defenseman Vince Dunn shattered his previous career-high of 35 points by contributing 14 goals and 50 assists. Seattle’s goaltenders were still a problem, as evidenced by their combined .890 save percentage, but the Kraken ranked seventh in 5-on-5 expected goals against (163.59), which kept the team defensively above water despite that poor netminding. Not satisfied with merely making the playoffs, Seattle managed to earn its first playoff series win by besting Colorado in seven games before falling to Dallas in the second round.

What’s Changed? Forward Daniel Sprong, who had 21 goals last season, and goaltender Martin Jones left as free agents. Jones’ departure opens the door for Joey Daccord to compete with Philipp Grubauer for starts. Other than that, the team figures to be largely the same.

What would success look like? With the Kraken’s existing forward core, they should challenge for a playoff spot again, but what would take this team to the next level would be a resurgence from Grubauer. Although the goaltender has struggled over his first two campaigns with Seattle, he was once an amazing netminder, posting a .920 save percentage over his first 214 career NHL contests. He briefly regained his form when facing his former team, the Avalanche, in the first round and was a huge part of that series victory. Grubauer didn’t look as impressive against Dallas, but maybe there’s still hope for the 31-year-old.

What could go wrong? McCann is in danger of regressing after scoring a career high with 40 goals in 79 contests last season, particularly because his 19.0 shooting percentage was well above his 12.1% career average. It’s also possible that Seattle’s offensive prowess last year was something of a perfect storm, given that its top five scorers and six of its top seven were able to play at least 79 games. Sprong being limited to 66 contests was the only significant setback the Kraken suffered on the injury front last year. They might not be as fortunate two seasons in a row.

Top Breakout Candidate: Beniers, Seattle’s first ever pick and the second overall selection in the 2021 draft, broke out with 57 points last season. Will Shane Wright, taken fourth overall in 2022, follow in his footsteps this year? Wright could develop into a superb two-way forward in the vein of the now retired Patrice Bergeron. Although Wright was unable to stick with Seattle last year, he got some more seasoning in the OHL and AHL and seems poised to make a serious run at a middle-six spot during training camp.


Matthew Beniers 

Matty Beniers was drafted second overall in 2021 and was the first ever draft pick of the Seattle Kraken. After finishing up his 2021-22 season at the University of Michigan, Beniers would play 10 games with the Kraken where he scored three goals and six assists. That rolled into his rookie season in 2022-23 where he scored 24 goals and 33 assists in 80 games, winning the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year by a healthy margin. He has an excellent shot, finishing at a rate of 16.3% so far in his career. Plus, he can use both his big frame and stick skills to excel in tight spaces. Additionally, he is an exceptionally disciplined player, only taking one minor penalty last season, helping him finish fourth in the league in penalty differential. Heading into his sophomore season, Beniers will want to be the one to help the Kraken crack their powerplay woes and he’d love to improve at faceoffs. His 42.2% faceoff win percentage so far in his career is abysmal. If he can keep growing, the 20-year-old who already has a well-crafted game, could become one of the best two-way centers in the NHL.

Jared McCann 

The days of Jared McCann being a castaway are over. After being tossed around from Vancouver to Florida to Pittsburgh, McCann was used as a pawn to protect Toronto’s roster in the NHL Expansion Draft. In his first season in Seattle, McCann recorded a career-high 50 points with 27 goals and 23 assists. He went ahead and followed that up with 40 goals and 30 assists last season, both career-highs again. At 27 years old, McCann has found his spot as a first line scoring winger with an up-and-coming Kraken team. He finished fourth behind Pastrnak, McDavid, and Rantanen in even strength goals with 30. McCann was also one of the only bright spots on the Kraken powerplay, leading them with seven goals and 16 points in just over 200 minutes. While there are doubts that he can finish at such a high rate again, ending last season with a 19% shooting percentage, he has shown throughout his career that he can also help his teammates finish well too. Plus, if the Kraken ever figure out their powerplay woes, he will be the one to receive the greatest benefit as the Kraken’s go-to shooter on the man advantage.

Oliver Bjorkstrand 

After a career-high 57 points in 80 games in 2021-22, the Columbus Blue Jackets decided that Oliver Bjorkstrand was a luxury that they could no longer afford due to cap constraints and sent him to Seattle. Bjorkstrand finished his first season with the Kraken with his fourth 20-goal season. The six-foot right-handed winger is an excellent forechecker, wreaking havoc on opponents trying to make their way up the ice. On a deeper Kraken team, he is able to dial in to his specific skill set. Dave Hakstol and the Kraken coaching staff placed him largely alongside Yanni Gourde and waiver-wire pick-up Eeli Tolvanen. The trio of more tactical forwards are tasked with keeping the ice tilting in the Kraken’s favor. In their time together, the line had a 56% share of shot attempts and outscored opponents 24 to 16. Bjorkstrand also saw 189 minutes on the powerplay last season, splitting time between units. The Kraken powerplay has struggled in its two years of existence, and Bjorkstrand was a part of that last season. If Bjorkstrand wants a shot at another career year this season, he will need to be a part of a growth in the Kraken powerplay in 2023-24.

Jordan Eberle 

The 33-year-old winger played his part in a phenomenal offensive year for the Seattle Kraken, scoring 20 goals and adding 43 assists. Eberle offers a veteran presence alongside Matty Beniers and Jared McCann, in which the former won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, while the latter scored 40 goals for the first time in his career. Eberle has been given offensive deployment most of his career, and Dave Hakstol and the Seattle Kraken coaching staff has amplified that since arriving on the scene in the fall of 2021. He has seen 15% of his 5-on-5 shifts start in the offensive zone with the Kraken, which is 2% higher than his career average. He has also continued to see high usage on the powerplay as he continues to get more than two minutes of powerplay time per game. The only time he has fallen short of that number was in the 2017-18 season with the New York Islanders when he was only on the ice for 1.93 powerplay minutes per game that season. As long as Eberle continues to see the offensive usage he does now, he should continue to age with reasonable production.

Yanni Gourde 

As the Kraken’s pick in the NHL Expansion Draft, Yanni Gourde brought a sense of personality and culture to the Kraken locker room. Although he stands at just 5’ 9”, the Quebec-native made his way into the NHL as a scrappy forward. It was the way he made his way into a deep Tampa Bay Lightning lineup at 25 years old, and it’s the way he is continuing to be useful at 31 years old. Gourde battles hard in all three zones, especially on opponents trying to exit their zone. His level of detail is why he can take on tough matchups and tilt the ice in his team’s favor. The only Kraken forwards who started a lower percentage of their shifts at 5-on-5 in the offensive zone were Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Donato. Going along with his defensive usage, Gourde was also on the ice for 164 shorthanded minutes last season, behind only Alex Wennberg and Brandon Tanev. That was the most time that Gourde had spent penalty killing in a season in his career, as the Kraken substituted his powerplay time for penalty killing time. One should expect more of the same of that usage this season but watch out for a bounce-back in his goal scoring with his shooting percentage regressing (9.93% last season vs career 14.5%).

Andre Burakovsky

After a revival of his career in Colorado, notching 61 goals and 89 assists in 191 games, Burakovskly tested unrestricted free agency where he elected to sign with the Seattle Kraken. The Colorado Avalanche had their eye on Burakovsky for his transition skills and shot. After a pair of disappointing 25-point seasons with the Capitals, that may have been hard to spot at the time. With the Kraken, Burakovsky continued to build on the offensive success he was having in Colorado, scoring 39 points in 49 games. However, a lower body injury in February would cause him to miss the rest of the season. Burakovsky found his home alongside Alex Wennberg, a forward who is responsible defensively and can help with the starting phases of breakouts deep in the zone. When he was in the lineup, he also saw time on the top unit. While he can make poor decisions at times, his offensive versatility makes him a valuable asset. The Kraken are hoping that he can pick up where he left off, as he is one of the more skilled forwards on their roster. Given their counterattacking style, they could use his ability to create offense off of the rush.

Alex Wennberg

After a promising start to his career, scoring 59 points in 80 games in 2016-17, Wennberg’s offense would fizzle out in the remainder of his time in Columbus and Florida. The 6’ 2” Swede has great size and playmaking abilities, but his lack of physicality and mentality to shoot the puck left prior coaches wanting more. Of the 371 forwards who played 500 or more minutes at 5-on-5 last season, only two forwards had a lower rate of individual shot attempts. Of course, that leads to a low rate of goal scoring and point production. He has scored 24 goals in his first 162 games with the Kraken, but there is always the risk something like 2018-19 happens again where he finishes with two goals in 75 games, shooting 3.1%. However, it’s clear that Dave Hakstol and the Kraken coaching staff love Wennberg. He was the top penalty killing option for them along with 186 minutes of powerplay time. Ultimately, the Kraken’s use of him as a dependable, defensively responsible forward will hurt his box score stats, but that is also important for helping other players on the team blossom.

Eeli Tolvanen 

A first round pick in 2017, the 5’ 10” Finnish forward struggled to make a mark with the Nashville Predators. In 135 games between the 2017-18 season and last season, Tolvanen accumulated only 25 goals and 26 points with the Predators. On December 11th, 2022, Nashville placed Tolvanen on waivers where he was picked up by the Kraken. Over the remainder of the season with the Kraken, Tolvanen would score 16 goals and 11 assists. Some credit must be given to the Seattle Kraken organization who were committed to his success. He would spend 87.5% of his 5-on-5 time with Yanni Gourde, and 70.0% with Oliver Bjorkstrand. Having the opportunity to play with talented players who are experienced alleviated some of the pressure that was resting on his shoulders. His linemates also opened up space for him that he was able to take full advantage of. For a 24-year-old winger, Tolvanen already has a well-rounded defensive game to go along with his above-average shot. But he wasn’t exactly the play-driver that he would’ve needed to be in Nashville in order to succeed there. Alongside play-drivers who need some help finishing, Tolvanen is the perfect complementary piece that we saw in the latter two-thirds of the 2022-23 season.

Jaden Schwartz 

After missing most of the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural season, Jaden Schwartz returned with a much healthier year, getting on the ice for 71 games in 2022-23. Any worries that his hand injury that he suffered in January of 2022 would hold him back seem to be alleviated as Schwartz scored 21 goals on 167 shots on goal, a finishing rate of 12.6%. Furthermore, he’s never been much of a shoot-first forward. He only ranked 161st among regular forwards in the rate he attempted to shoot the puck at 5-on-5 last season, a large chunk of which were blocked. He’s known mostly for being dependable at most things, but not elite at any one thing. This can be reflected both in his lack of consistent linemates, as the coaching staff feels comfortable playing him with many different forwards, but also his quality of competition. Schwartz faced the third-hardest competition at 5-on-5 among Kraken forwards last season in terms of weighted-average time-on-ice of opponents. At 31 years old, it’s clear that Schwartz won’t blow you out of the water with his box score stats. He has only cleared 60 points once in his career. Despite playing on the number one 5-on-5 offense in the league last season and getting a hefty dose of powerplay time, he was not on track to add another 60-point season. He has instead reverted to being a dependable piece for the coaching staff in the middle six.


Vince Dunn 

Vince Dunn had a breakout 2022-23 campaign scoring 14 goals and 50 assists in 81 games for the Kraken. His 64-point total, which ranked tenth among defensemen last season, close to doubled his previous career-high of 35 which he set in 2018-19 and 2021-22. While he did play most of his 5-on-5 minutes alongside Adam Larsson in the inaugural season for the Kraken, he was close to glued to his hip last season, spending 88.3% of those minutes with Larsson. Dunn, a player who is excellent at breaking out of the zone and has a well-developed offensive toolset, has the habit of making big mistakes from time to time. A steady defensive partner like Larsson helps bring the most out of Dunn. It also helped that he had a slightly more skilled forward core to support last season as well. And with Mark Giordano out of the picture, the first powerplay unit was his all year, and no one is set to take that role away from him. He may seem some regression this coming season after shooting 9.3%, but his elevated production should be the new normal for him.

Adam Larsson

Perhaps best known for being the player the Edmonton Oilers exchanged Taylor Hall for, Adam Larsson is a 6’ 3” staple on the back end. Last season, playing with Vince Dunn and a deep forward core that helped push the Kraken’s even strength offense to the best in the league, Larsson was able to achieve a new career-high 33 points in 82 games. The Swede won’t win you over for his offensive play, but rather his dependability. He is talented defensively, allowing his teammates to take risks at times knowing that he will clean it up. He also hasn’t missed a game since November of 2019. Larsson led the Kraken in shorthanded time on ice last season at 227 minutes, or 59.2% of the Kraken’s time shorthanded. His usage and unwavering commitment to defense also helped propel him to ninth in blocked shots last season, and fourth over the last three seasons. Adam Larsson is the guy that does the dirty jobs that no one else wants to do, and he does it well. He will likely find his way into the top 100 in points among defensemen just by his usage and will log a substantial amount of shorthanded time while blocking shots.

Jamie Oleksiak

The 6’ 7” defenseman requires special permission from the league for the length of his stick. Not only is that stick extraordinarily long, but it is also 120 flex. Whatever works for the 2011 first round pick as he scored nine goals on 76 shots on goal last season. The shooting percentage of 11.8% will be impossible for him to reproduce, but it speaks to the utter strangeness in his game. Oleksiak had also gotten hot before, scoring five goals on 33 shots in the 2016-17 season. But at times, Oleksiak gets cold, like his first season in Seattle where he only managed a single goal on 95 shots. His unpredictability is what makes him a fun player to follow. Last season, for the first time in his 11-season career, Oleksiak was a staple to the penalty kill. He was the left-handed defenseman that was deployed alongside Adam Larsson, a role that was previously unfilled. You may have assumed that a defenseman of his size would have played a major role on penalty kills before, but Oleksiak’s preferred play style is as unique as his numbers. He loves to jump up into plays, helping transition the puck like a forward, as opposed to sticking back and being sturdy. Perhaps that’s why he led the Kraken in defensive zone starts last season.

Justin Schultz

After a disappointing 2021-22 season where the Washington Capitals reduced his ice time from 19 minutes per game to 17 minutes per game, Justin Schultz made his way to the west coast where he played just a bit more time with the Seattle Kraken. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has aged out of his days of being a stud offensive defenseman to complement Kris Letang’s work. His 34 points with the Kraken last season was the highest point production he recorded in a season since scoring 51 points in the 2016-17 season with Pittsburgh. Not good enough to be a top-pairing offensive defenseman for most teams, Schultz finds himself in a bit of an odd spot, as most general managers would prefer to fill the bottom four spots with penalty killers or younger offensive defensemen. The Seattle Kraken were one of the few teams that had the perfect slot for him, and he found his way to a bounce back season alongside Jamie Oleksiak. While Vince Dunn is undoubtedly the top choice for the first powerplay unit, Schultz fills in nicely on the second unit. Luckily for Schultz, there isn’t much contention for that spot either. You can expect more of the same from Schultz in the final year of his contract.


Philipp Grubauer

The Seattle Kraken had one job for Philipp Grubauer last season – do better than the year before, and don’t crumble in the postseason. And while he didn’t make the kind of massive bounce-back that the team undoubtedly hoped for, he did complete his assignment; he dragged his save percentage up from the mid-.880’s to just shy of the .900 threshold, doubling his quality start percentage from the year before and creeping closer to the league average in goals saved above expected. He remained an underperformer from a pure monetary standpoint, especially given just how much money they’d handed him in free agency, but he climbed out of the basement enough to bring the rest of the team up with him.

Grubauer’s biggest problem now wasn’t that he looked like he was playing catch-up all year; unlike in his first season with the expansion franchise, he managed to hit crisper angles and corral more shots before allowing sloppy rebounds. While he really elevated his game in his good performances, though, Grubauer’s biggest issue became his consistency; he had a lot of elite games, he had an above-average number of absolute stinkers, and he put up almost zero games that fell in the in-between. There was no such thing for the German-born goaltender as a league-average performance; he gave games his everything or he nearly got chased from the net, and he continued to waffle between the two performances all the way to the last week of the regular season. That, in itself, is a reason for concern for Seattle; he proved he still has excellent games in the tank, but he didn’t prove he could deliver those with enough reliability to tab him as the number one and breathe a sigh of relief. He’ll need to take that final step forward this year if he wants to prove his contract was worth it for the Pacific Northwest club.

Projected starts: 55-60