SEATTLE – Four months after their spirited playoff run ended, the Kraken get back on the ice this week ahead of what they hope will be a defining third season.
Training camp begins Thursday, but the team on Monday precedes that with the start of a two-day rookie camp at the Kraken Community Iceplex featuring prospects that could make the NHL squad as soon as this season. Leading the way are last year’s No. 4 overall draft pick Shane Wright, AHL rookie of the year and Kraken playoff forward Tye Kartye and AHL rookie All-Star defenseman Ryker Evans.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis said this week he hopes Wright sticks with the team, though he’s received indication an exception will be made allowing the 19-year-old to go to the AHL if need be. No official ruling granting Wright an exemption to the NHL’s transfer agreement rules with major junior hockey will be made unless he doesn’t make the Kraken roster.
“Let’s see what he can do,” Francis said. “As we make our cuts, as we go through camp there are certain decisions we have to make and that certainly would be one of them. And if it ends up that he’s not making our team, the ability to put him in Coachella Valley makes more sense. It’s probably in the best interest of the player. So, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Francis said he’s optimistic about Wright, whose offseason training he feels was “slowed” in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic – which also caused the cancellation of his entire 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League campaign. This summer, Wright has been working with Kraken conditioning consultant Gary Roberts in Toronto and skating with some of the team’s players in that city.
“I think his game got better in the AHL playoffs as they went along,” Francis said of Wright, who was eligible for postseason AHL play despite rules requiring him to be returned to junior hockey in the regular season when he couldn’t stick with the Kraken. “It’s just a matter of hanging on to the puck and controlling it with speed when coming through the middle. I think at times he wants to move it maybe quicker than he should.
“He’s also a very conscientious player, so especially in the defensive zone he’s trying to make sure things are happening. But I think he could get on the horse a little bit sooner and get moving out of the zone. I think he was a little bit cautious last year. And hopefully this year, he just kind of relaxes and lets his skill take over, lets his ability take over.”
Wright attended a Kraken development camp in July, saying then of his AHL playoff experience: “I think just playing at the pro level for the amount of playoffs I did, you naturally have to adapt and grow stronger playing against those bigger, stronger guys.”
He added that his whirlwind first season of eight Kraken games and more in junior hockey and the AHL was “all about the learning experience and growing into the pro atmosphere and the pro lifestyle and learning how to be a pro. You really have to take care of your body more. You’re playing against bigger, stronger guys and you’re going to get beat up more. You’re going to get sore, with bumps and bruises and whatnot.”
The Kraken made a slew of offseason moves to free up roster space to accommodate all three of Wright, Kartye and Evans this season or next. Most notably, they allowed forwards Morgan Geekie and Daniel Sprong to leave as restricted free agents when they still controlled rights to both players while also letting forward Ryan Donato and defenseman Carson Soucy depart as unrestricted free agents.
Geekie leaving opens a center position on the third or fourth line that Wright could ostensibly fill while Sprong and Donato going keeps some wing spots available for Kartye and possibly high-performing minor league forward Kole Lind as well. Unlike the other prospects, Lind, who turns 25 next month, already has five pro seasons behind him and 30 games played in the NHL with the Kraken and Vancouver Canucks. This could be his final shot at cracking the big club’s roster after a standout AHL campaign.
On the defensive side, Soucy was a left-handed shot, and AHL prospect Evans is expected to eventually fill a pairing spot on that side.
The Kraken did make offseason signings of forwards Kailer Yamamoto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Devin Shore, but all were one-year, insurance-type deals that wouldn’t impede Wright or Kartye from making the team right away.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin was signed to a longer two-year free agent deal – which was one fewer than Soucy wanted and also more in-line with the timetable for prospect Evans.
Unlike Wright and Kartye, who have already made NHL debuts and could crack the roster in coming weeks, Evans is not expected to make the Kraken straight out of training camp. His Kraken debut might not happen until much later this season or even 2024-25 depending on his sophomore AHL campaign performance and so there was a need to sign Dumoulin for longer than the free agent forwards.
Beyond players who could already be NHL-ready, the rookie camp will host top prospects expected to start knocking on the Kraken’s door at this point a year or two from now. They include this summer’s 20th-overall draft selection Eduard Sale, last year’s second rounder Jagger Firkus and third round pick Ty Nelson as well as Ryan Winterton, a third-rounder from 2021.
Some already experienced Kraken training camp a year ago while all partook in the July development camp.
Sale, 18, in particular, hopes to show more than he did then.
“Not the best,” the Czech Republic native said following his debut in that camp. “I feel a little bit bad about it.”
Now, with an additional summer to prepare, Sale and other aspirants will hope the Kraken see their very best – regardless of where they’re destined to spend this season.