Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team throughout the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 Seattle Kraken.
2023-24 Seattle Kraken
The Kraken took a massive leap forward from years one to two in their franchise’s young existence. They finished 29th out of 32 teams in their inaugural season, with just 60 points (27-49-6). Then, last season, they ended 12th league-wide, with 100 points (46-28-8). That 40-point improvement happened thanks to development and improvement across all aspects of their roster. Now, in 2023-24, the Seattle Kraken aim to prove last year wasn’t just a fluke.
Seattle focused heavily on offloading contracts and accumulating draft capital in their first season. The 2022-23 campaign truly kicked off for them at the 2022 entry draft. They drafted Shane Wright with the fourth overall pick, despite many scout rankings listing Wright as the best prospect available. General Manager Ron Francis didn’t hesitate to snag Wright after the three teams ahead of him opted for other players instead.
2022-23 Regular Season
Immediately, the opening night roster featured quite a bit more firepower last year than their inaugural season. Wright ultimately spent most of the year between the AHL and juniors, continuing his development. However, Francis added plenty of other fresh faces before training camp too. Andre Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Eeli Tolvanen, and Justin Schultz all featured as newcomers last year. That provided tons more scoring depth; Bjorkstrand reached 20 goals, Burakovsky was on pace for 27 before an injury ended his season, and Tolvanen scored at nearly a 30-goal pace too.
Also, free agent goaltender Martin Jones wound up factoring in significantly as the rest of Seattle’s goalies battled injuries. In fact, Jones started over half the team’s games (42), and finished with a 27-13-3 record.
2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The city of Seattle embraced the Kraken since day one, but they truly became a hockey town in April 2023. Winning nearly 20 more games than the year prior, Seattle earned their first ever Stanley Cup Playoffs berth. Their 100 points meant they ranked as the top Wild Card seed, drawing a tough matchup against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche.
That matchup looked tough on paper, yet the Kraken hung with them admirably. They won the series with a decisive game seven victory on the road, by a 3-1 margin. Their “Cindarella Story” fell short after that, though still featured plenty of excitement beyond that first round. Against the Dallas Stars, they forced yet another game seven, but lost this time around.
Nonetheless, Seattle raised the bar significantly for themselves in year two. They checked a lot of boxes off of the list of “franchise firsts” too. First playoff appearance, first game seven appearance, first playoff round win…this was a year to remember in the Emerald City.
Most encouraging for Seattle coming off of such a bright season was their salary cap situation this summer. Nearly all of the team’s core remained signed through at least the end of 2023-24, with a handful of players locked in for three or four years beyond that. In fact, practically the only turnover this summer came from the team’s fourth line. Morgan Geekie, Ryan Donato, and Daniel Sprong all signed elsewhere.
Seattle also opted to let Jones depart, as Chris Driedger returns from an injury that held him off the Kraken roster for all of last season. The only defenceman leaving was Carson Soucy too, while all others remain under contract.
Coming in to help fill these holes, Seattle signed Kailer Yamamoto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Devin Shore and Brian Dumoulin each to one-year deals. They have a good chunk of prospects that want to earn opportunities with the big club this year as well. So, between the external moves and internal development, the Kraken have lots of options for their roster.
Andre Burakovsky – Alexander Wennberg – Kailer Yamamoto
Eeli Tolvanen – Yanni Gourde – Oliver Bjorkstrand
Seattle made it very clear last year that they put very little significance on the order of their lineup. Lines one through four all possessed the ability to score and control possession, night in and night out. The traditional “top six”, “middle six”, and “bottom six” way of thinking kind of goes out the window for this team. Instead, they balance their group, so they possess defensive responsibility and offensive prowess regardless what trio hops on the ice.
That said, their first line does draw the toughest matchups and also scores at the highest clip. McCann, Beniers and Eberle likely remain together next year, as they look to build upon the chemistry they already developed.
Yamamoto could slot in on the second line, but might also wind up further down in the lineup. He showed in previous years a real knack for the offensive side of the game, something Seattle could always use more of in their “win by committee” approach. Perhaps injecting his speed on the second line helps them take the pace of play up as a trio.
Seattle’s third line also developed a good amount of chemistry last season. Tolvanen came over as a waiver wire claim midseason, and posted 27 points in 48 contests. Gourde finished fifth on the team in production, and Bjorkstrand fell just three points shy of Gourde’s total output.
That fourth line still packs a punch, despite the fact that it is composed of three different people than last season. Tanev can play anywhere in the lineup, but his physicality and energy suits him perfectly for a fourth line role. Bellemare received a contract specifically to address the hole at centre on the fourth line. Plus, he brings better faceoff-winning experience than anyone on the Kraken roster. Then there’s Schwartz, who might wind up playing elsewhere in the lineup. If he does end up here, though, that puts another player capable of scoring 20+ goals on their bottom line.
Brian Dumoulin – Justin Schultz
This top four remains identical to what Seattle deployed in 2022-23. Dunn and Larsson return as the top pair, with Oleksiak and Borgen as the next duo behind them. In both cases, one player brings more offensive ability while the other compliments them as a bigger-bodied, defensive defenceman.
Dunn just had himself a major coming-out party for the Seattle Kraken, and in 2023-24 will try to repeat his success. He potted 14 goals and 64 points in 81 games, nearly doubling his previous career highs. That earned him a four-year contract this summer worth $7.35 million annually, officially making him the highest paid player on the team.
The only change in Seattle on the blueline occurs here, on the third pairing. Instead of Soucy and Schultz, the 2023-23 Seattle Kraken have Dumoulin and Schultz. It feels like a minor change, but Dumoulin enters with a lot more NHL experience under his belt. Not only that, but he’s played top pair minutes in his previous role elsewhere. Now, as a third pair defender, he faces slightly easier matchups and less ice time each night. That could really benefit the Kraken, and provides them with an obvious option to move up in the lineup if ever needed.
Seattle returns to the same goalie tandem they began the franchise with back a couple years ago. Driedger didn’t play a single game at the NHL level last year, because he had to recover from a major knee injury from the summer prior. He enters 2023-24 healthy for the Seattle Kraken, with an opportunity to re-gain his status. He’ll need to perform, too, as Seattle still has Joey Daccord biting at Driedger’s heels. Coming off an amazing AHL year, Daccord certainly fixed his eyes on a full-time gig at the NHL level.
When the season begins, though, Grubauer will lead the charge. He enters his third year as the team’s bonafide number one goalie, though has yet to really run with that title. In each regular season, Seattle finds themselves amongst the bottom of the league in goaltending statistics. Even as they piled up wins last season, neither Grubauer or Jones consistently turned in quality starts.
That changed in the postseason, when Grubauer had a lights-out series against the Avs in round one. He remained sharp against Dallas, though not quite at the same “brick wall”-esque level. If Grubauer carries his playoff momentum into 2023-24, the Seattle Kraken are set between the pipes. If not, the net will be very much up for the taking for either Daccord or Driedger to seize.
Players to Watch
His name didn’t crack the projected lineup above, but a strong training camp could easily change that. After McCann went down with an injury in the team’s first round matchup against Colorado, Kartye received the call-up. Not only did he log games, but head coach Dave Hakstol opted to insert him right into McCann’s slot on the team’s first line. Kartye responded admirably, posting five points and three goals in ten playoff appearances. That included a goal in his debut.
Clearly, Kartye doesn’t fear the big stage. His ability to jump right in surely bodes well for his future. If he carries that confidence and shows his talent in camp, he could very well make himself a case for the opening night roster. That won’t be easy, as there’s quite a few proven names ahead of him he’ll need to displace. Seattle remains committed to their balanced approach, so if Kartye truly offers them more than other forwards, he’ll earn an opportunity to stick in the NHL.
Before his injury, Burakovsky produced at a higher rate than almost the entire team. His 39 points in 49 games equates to a 65-point campaign over a full 82-game season. That would have set a new career-high for Burakovsky, while also exceeding everyone else’s total except for McCann (70).
Without Burakovsky, Seattle maintained just fine thanks to their unparalleled depth. With scorers on all four lines, Seattle still saw 13 players reach double-digit goal outputs. Only two of those 13 left this summer (Sprong and Donato). Getting Burakovsky back provides a huge boost offensively, and takes some pressure off of the bottom six to match their incredible output from last season.
That isn’t to say that Seattle’s depth cannot repeat what they accomplished last season. However, it probably wouldn’t be something the team wanted to have to rely on next year. A healthy Burakovsky provides one more way for this team to consistently find the back of the net.
Prediction for 2023-24 Seattle Kraken
The NHL remains an incredibly balanced and competitive league. With the salary cap constraints, talent gets spread across every team pretty evenly, especially compared to other major sports. What Seattle has built through two seasons deserves a lot of praise. They didn’t go out and spend on elite superstars, nor did they spend draft capital to acquire one via trade.
Instead, Seattle put together a team full of two-way players fueled by competitiveness. Their forward group features a lot of names capable of scoring 40-60 points and logging 15-20 minutes per night. Even the prospects on the cusp of the roster (Kole Lind, Wright, Kartye) look like promising options, either this year or in the years to come. The new depth adds (Bellemare, Shore, Yamamoto, Marian Studenic) bring even more competition to camp, ensuring everyone fights to prove themselves for this team.
Expect Seattle to punch their ticket once again to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2023-24. They might wind up in the Wild Card race yet again, but this team retained too much talent to fall on the outside looking in.
Main Photo: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports