MONTREAL — One day after they surprisingly landed Shane Wright with the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL entry draft, the Kraken began a busy second round Friday by taking a forward far less imposing — at least off the ice.
Jagger Firkus, chosen 35th overall, stands 5 feet 10 and has yet to reach 160 pounds despite working on weight gain through his diet and an enhanced training regimen. But on the ice, playing center and right wing, Firkus just scored 36 goals his first full season for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL before his 18th birthday in April.
And despite his lack of girth, the nicknamed “Firkus Circus” is reputedly a stellar all-around athlete with one of the best shots in this year’s draft class. A shot, he added, that he’s kept honing by firing pucks against a tarp his parents installed two years ago in the basement of his Irma, Alberta, home.
“It was actually a Christmas present,” Firkus said after his selection. “My parents set it up for me a couple of years ago, they put it in my basement. It’s a little shooting towel, so it’s probably the best present I’ve ever gotten on Christmas Day. I still use it to this day, and it’s something I’m going to keep using.”
The Kraken had three additional second-round picks, taking 6-3, 216-pound left wing Jani Nyman from Finland with the 48th overall selection. They added Finnish goalie Niklas Kokko at 58th overall and Quebec-born centerman David Goyette from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves with their final second round selection (61st overall).
The Kraken opened the third round by taking Toronto-born right-handed defenseman Ty Nelson from the OHL’s North Bay Battalion at No. 68, then, traded fourth- and-fifth-round choices at Nos. 117 and 132 to the Boston Bruins to move up to No. 91, where they selected Boston-born prep school star Ben MacDonald — a 6-1 Harvard commit who is set to play in the junior-level British Columbia Hockey League next season.
“Obviously, we were excited with the way things fell for us last night, getting Shane with our fourth pick,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said after the two-day draft concluded. “And then today was a good day, too. We took some swings on some guys we think have some offensive upside. Guys that we hope can score some goals for us somewhere down the road.
“We ended up getting a goaltender that we liked. So put that in the system as well and then a couple of D-men.”
The Kraken closed out the fourth round by taking defenseman Tyson Jugnauth from the BCHL at 100th overall and center Tucker Robertson from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes that round at No. 123. They took Quebec Major Junior Hockey League left-handed-shot defenseman Jake Furlong from Halifax in the fifth round at No. 140, then added Minnesota NAHL junior league forward Barrett Hall in the sixth round at No. 164.
Their final pick, at 196th overall in the seventh round, was on center Kyle Jackson, who teamed with third-rounder Nelson in North Bay.
“I thought it was a great day for us,” Kraken scouting director Robert Kron said. “It was obviously busy, for sure, in the second round. But we found some players — some players that were there for us — that we’re really excited about.”
Kron said the Kraken’s only trade of the day signified how high the team’s scouts were on eventual 91st overall pick MacDonald, who starred at Noble & Greenough High School in Massachusetts, where he led the team with 14 goals and 29 assists in 22 games. He also averaged two points per game playing 23 additional contests with a top-level Under-18 AAA squad.
His father, Lane MacDonald, is Harvard’s all-time scoring leader with 111 goals and led the Crimson to an NCAA title in 1989.
“Our regional guys are really passionate about Ben MacDonald,” he said. “They had a big, big belief in his ability, and so we went to see him. Obviously, he played high school, so it’s a difficult league to try to predict. But he’s got good size, good speed. He’s got a hockey pedigree, and he was a really good kid.”
The Bell Centre corridors were still buzzing Friday about how the draft’s opening round unfolded Thursday night. Kingston Frontenacs center Wright had spent the past two years widely touted as the consensus No. 1 overall choice, though Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky was believed to be quickly closing the gap.
When Montreal eventually bypassed Wright for Slafkovsky at No. 1 overall, it set off a chain of events that led to the centerman dropping two additional spots before the Kraken nabbed him with the fourth overall pick.
Firkus had been projected by some as a late-first round selection, so the Kraken having a second-round shot at him was somewhat of a milder draft surprise less than 24 hours after Wright tumbled into their laps. Concerns about Firkus’ size were a likely reason for the drop, and he’s the first to admit it’s a work in progress.
“I’ve got to get bigger and stronger,” he said, adding he’s up to 158 pounds from the 150 he was listed at to start last season. “That’s one big thing I’ve really worked on. But I believe I’m going to do that, because I have the work ethic to do it.”
Firkus did plenty of work on his shot with the basement tarp during the COVID-19 layoff, which limited his debut WHL season to just 12 games. He played 23 games the next season, scoring six goals and doing little to preview what was to come in his full 2021-22 campaign.
He credits the tarp with helping his shots find the back of the net more often.
“You set it up like four feet in front of the wall so that when you hit the tarp it doesn’t quite hit the wall,” he said. “It has little holes and little targets for you to aim at. It’s a really cool setup downstairs.”
Another good setup for Firkus in Irma is that Kraken defenseman Carson Soucy also hails from the same Alberta town of just more than 500 residents.
“He’s someone that I work out with, I skate with him a lot,” Firkus said. “He’s someone that I look up to. Obviously, he pushes himself. He’s played in the NHL for a while now so you’ve got to make sure you’re looking up to and follow his lead.”
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