Five questions facing Seattle Kraken

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NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Seattle Kraken:

 

1. How good will they be?

The Vegas Golden Knights set the bar high in 2017-18, when they won the Pacific Division, finished fifth in the NHL, and made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

Comparisons are inevitable. In some ways, that’s good. The Golden Knights serve as inspiration. After the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said, “You look at the success Vegas had, right? I think we can kind of follow the same mold.”

But this is a different situation, a different team. The Kraken must set their own course.

“I think there’s an opportunity for success, and I think it’s important for us to achieve success as we’re growing as a team,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s not easy. It’s not going to be an easy task. That’s not a comparison to anybody that’s done it before us. That’s just what our standard is going to be.”

 

2. How does Dave Hakstol turn this roster into a team?

When the players take the ice for the first time in training camp Sept. 23, they will not have played together before. They won’t know the system. Roles will not be defined.

Hakstol must bring them together as a team before the regular-season opener at Vegas on Oct. 12, teaching the system and figuring out combinations. Along the way, the leadership group must emerge and the players must bond.

One reason the Kraken hired Hakstol is that he had a strong plan leading up to camp. He planned to reach out to players and build relationships as quickly as possible ahead of time.

“We have to grow and become comfortable with the details of the system all together,” Hakstol said. “That’s from the ground up. Everybody’s starting from the same spot on Day One.”

 

3. Can Philipp Grubauer be another Marc-Andre Fleury?

Not only was Fleury the face of the franchise for Vegas after the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, he put up what was at the time the best goals-against average (2.24) and save percentage (.927) of his NHL career in their inaugural season, a big reason why the Golden Knights accomplished so much.

Grubauer was Seattle’s prize in free agency, signing a six-year contract July 28. He went 30-9-1 with a 1.95 GAA, a .922 save percentage and seven shutouts in 40 games (39 starts) for the Colorado Avalanche last season and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalie as voted by NHL general managers.

“I think it’s incredible to be part of something new and make history in terms of playing the first-ever game and being part of that group and doing the same thing Vegas did,” Grubauer said. “That’s the goal.”

 

4. What will the defense pairs be?

The top four defensemen seem to be Vince Dunn, Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson and Oleksiak. Does Hakstol pair Dunn with Larsson and Giordano with Oleksiak? Does he put Dunn with Oleksiak and Giordano with Larsson?

Then it gets interesting with Will Borgen, Dennis Cholowski, Haydn Fleury, Jeremy Lauzon and Carson Soucy on the roster. Do Fleury and Soucy become the third pair? Who is the seventh defenseman? Do the Kraken keep eight defensemen? Do they use their surplus to make a trade?

 

5. Do they have enough firepower up front, especially at center?

The Kraken selected center Yanni Gourde from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the expansion draft, but he is expected to miss the first two months of the season after having shoulder surgery.

Seattle’s other options at center include Nathan Bastian, Morgan Geekie, Calle Jarnkrok, Marcus Johansson and Alex Wennberg.

No one on the roster scored more than 17 goals last season, though eight forwards hit double digits: Gourde (17), Wennberg (17), Joonas Donskoi (17), Jordan Eberle (16), Jared McCann (14), Jarnkrok (13), Mason Appleton (12) and Colin Blackwell (12).

Jaden Schwartz scored eight goals for the St. Louis Blues last season but has scored at least 19 goals in a season five times.

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