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Kraken prospects Tye Kartye and Ryker Evans make case to be on NHL squad

Seattle’s Ryker Evans skates against Edmonton’s Colton Sceviour during the second period of an NHL preseason game at Rogers Place on Sept. 28, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta.  (Getty Images)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

SEATTLE – At this point, the Kraken discussion around prospects Tye Kartye and Ryker Evans shouldn’t be about whether they’ve done enough to make the team.

No, if we’re being honest, the only discussion point should be about how much time you’d want either spending in a press box on nights they aren’t in the Kraken’s regular-season lineup. As far as proving they should be in the NHL, both have made their training camp case to where sending either back to the AHL seems a waste of time.

This is different from the Shane Wright situation. Wright has had a solid camp, but has yet to play a full professional season and the Kraken have better center options in terms of NHL readiness, special teams experience and faceoff ability.

That isn’t the case with Kartye and Evans. Both had their talents on display in the Kraken’s 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. Neither looked out of place and both seemed to be driving play whenever out there.

Kartye was even out killing penalties, blocking a Philip Broberg wrist shot and then racing up ice and feathering a pass to Cale Fleury off a 2-on-1 break after he’d stepped out of the box. Fleury barely missed converting for a goal and then, as the puck headed back the other way, Kartye did what he’s known to do and knocked recovering Oilers defenseman Broberg to the ice.

That physical aspect to Kartye’s two-way game separates him from some other forwards who have worn the Kraken uniform. During his emergency Kraken playoff stint last spring, I counted two or three occasions where Kartye knocked an opposing player off his skates with an open-ice hit.

“I think I kind of added that to my game in junior and it was successful,” Kartye said after Monday’s game. “And I’ve continued that to start the pro career and it’s just another tool in my toolbox.”

Even when not knocking opponents on their backsides, Kartye’s physical game can be a momentum turner in gathering loose pucks and directing them toward the net. Morgan Geekie was like that the times he’d use his 6-foot-3, 202-pound frame to win 1-on-1 puck battles and dictate the course of play.

Even Geekie admitted he’d have to remind himself just how big he is and to use his size. No one seems to have to tell that to 5-11, 202-pound fireplug Kartye.

“I’m definitely, obviously putting my best foot forward every time I step on the ice and that’s really all I can control,” Kartye said. “That’s really all I can control – your attitude and your effort.”

As for Evans, he looked like an old hand in a top defensive pairing alongside Adam Larsson as well as “quarterbacking” the second power-play unit. That unit accounted for the Kraken’s only goal when Evans kept a puck in at the point and flung a pass to Andrew Poturalski, who fired a shot toward the net front that was redirected by Jaden Schwartz past goalie Jack Campbell.

Evans would have drawn an assist had Spokane native Kailer Yamamoto not superfluously tapped the puck over the line when it was already headed into the net. In any event, Evans spearheaded the entire sequence. He also prevented a possible Edmonton goal on a prior power play by scrambling back the length of the ice to disrupt onrushing Edmonton forward Josh Holloway after a Kraken giveaway in the Oilers’ zone.

The high-flying Oilers had just two shots in the second period despite three power-play chances. Edmonton managed just 14 shots all night, so the Kraken defense clearly enjoyed a solid outing with Evans holding his own.

Evans at times has seemed the best power-play QB the Kraken have had – whether that be Mark Giordano, Vince Dunn or Justin Schultz manning the point. He’s gained the offensive zone with ease and confidently directed the attack with split-second decisions and pinpoint passes.

Will it be enough for Evans or Kartye to make the team?

Again, that depends whether the Kraken are willing to sit either in the press box more than they would play in the AHL. Both are waiver exempt and could be sent to Coachella Valley, California, for regular pro playing time without fear of being claimed.

But is that really what’s best for the team?

The problem with keeping Kartye is the Kraken have fourth-line wingers Brandon Tanev and newcomer Yamamoto. Tanev is under contract two more seasons at $3.5 million annually, whereas Yamamoto has had success getting to the net front on preseason power plays and remains an intriguing piece, earning a not-inconsequential $1.5 million.

So, keeping Kartye means rotating one of that trio in and out of the press box.

As for Evans, the Kraken signed veteran Brian Dumoulin as a third pairing left-handed defender for two years and $6.3 million. Dumoulin, 32, is theoretically a placeholder occupying the spot Evans would take.

There have been concerns about Dumoulin’s game slowing , and seeing McDavid blow past him in Monday’s first period didn’t alleviate those fears. Then again, McDavid is known to make even All-Star talents look bad.

But keeping Evans likely means rotating press box time for both him and Dumoulin. And $3.15 million annually to Dumoulin is a lot to be paying anybody not on the ice regularly.

Still, there’s an even bigger picture in play than salary-cap allocation.

The Kraken allowed several key contributors – Geekie, Daniel Sprong, Ryan Donato, Carson Soucy – to leave as free agents to clear roster room for prospects to start cracking the lineup this season.

And if that’s the case, it’s best to start ripping that band-aid off for the NHL-ready guys to get through inevitable growing pains. Sure, preseason isn’t the regular season, and you can nitpick flaws in the youngsters’ games – Kraken coach Dave Hakstol alluded postgame to Kartye allowing passes to slip by him through uncovered seams while killing penalties – but that’s part of the growing pain process.

At this stage of the Kraken’s evolution, the franchise is best suited putting NHL-ready players in the NHL. That way, Kartye and Evans can train full time alongside NHL teammates and coaches and use their inevitable press box nights to watch from above and glean final insights needed to permanently dislodge competitors from their spots.