Leading into the second day of practice at Kraken Community Iceplex, the Seattle Kraken plans of preparation for their return to play on Wednesday became a little more clear:
They have their leading scorer back (Jordan Eberle) and another sparkplug-type of player (Yanni Gourde). But that plan, long term, will also have to include filling a role left vacant by forward Brandon Tanev.
Ruled out for the season after the Kraken announced he suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament, following a collision against the boards on Dec. 18 against Edmonton with updates on surgery and a recovery period still pending, the Kraken were in the middle of practice with 19 skaters along with an apparent full slate of line combinations but an incomplete mix of defensemen (due to COVID-19 protocol wiping out a handful of available defensemen).
It ended with an energized pledge to seek any available hands on deck to fill Tanev’s void, and handling uncertainly of who can play, and who can’t.
TANEV OUT FOR THE SEASON
Make no mistake: Tanev meant more than just 14:34 average of ice time per game. Often times, it was 14:34 of pure, unabridged, unchained yet productive chaos.
The man nicknamed “Turbo” killed penalties. He leads the Kraken with 98 hits. He was on a course to establish a new career high in goal scoring (he had nine in 30 games). His name and jersey number 13 have been sold on jerseys and shirts in the team store. His long locks, iconic wide-eyed headshot photo, and relentless pursuit of every puck and check generated a surge of energy every shift among fans and Kraken teammates.
“Turbo Time” became a thing in Seattle.
“He’s an important player for us, he’s a huge part of our dressing room and a big part of what we’ve been doing on the ice,” said head coach Dave Hakstol.
Who the Kraken find to fill the gap at even strength situations and on the penalty kill (where Tanev had the fourth most minutes on the team this season) is a measure Hakstol said, “we’ll determine that as we move forward.”
Who the Kraken find to fill the gap from an emotional level, is a different thing.
“For me, importantly in the locker room, he’s a leadership guy,” said Jordan Eberle. “He’s got a voice in the room and brings a lot of energy. And a lot of life.”
The understanding is that filling the emotional gap will take more than just one player.
“I don’t think there’s a single guy who can replace Tanev,” said Gourde. “Injuries happen. We’re all going to have to do a little bit more, bring your energy level a little bit more, emotion level a little bit higher, every single night. That guy does it every single night. Everybody’s got to step in and take a little bit of his role."
Hakstol said Tanev will be around the dressing room from time to time during his rehab process, still providing a familiar face. But the process of who fills that emotional role at a comprehensive level on game night, he said, falls on a collective effort.
“We have good veterans in the dressing room,” said Hakstol. “Number one, you support your teammate. Our guys will do that. They’ll provide great support for Brandon. On the other side, there’s a void there.”
“Others have to step in some of those voids and make sure, leadership wise, we’re filling in those spaces.”
FINDING SOLUTIONS TO UNCERTAINTY
The list of the walking wounded, and out-of-commission has grown. With Tanev sidelined for the season, along with forward Mason Appleton announced on Monday as an addition to COVID-19 protocol, Hakstol said “there’s uncertainty there.”
Appleton, Jamie Oleksiak, Carson Soucy, Adam Larsson, Ryan Donato, and Vince Dunn are all in COVID-19 protocol. Hakstol confirmed Oleksiak and Soucy could join the Kraken tomorrow, providing a more symmetrical look to the lineup. It helps with an immediate solution before Wednesday’s scheduled matchup with Philadelphia.
They only had four defensemen available to skate on Tuesday, an issue Hakstol said, “not ideal coming off a break and wanting to get into systems work.”
But, potentially adding Oleksiak gives the Kraken a heavy, 6-foot-7 frame on the back end with the fourth most minutes per game among the entire team, along with Soucy, who has seen his ice time grow and now leads all club defensemen with four goals.
It would maximize who the Kraken have in their arsenal for blueliners at this point, with general manager Ron Francis confirming to the Athletic on Monday night that all three defensemen eligible for recall to the team or taxi squad from the AHL – Cale Fleury, Connor Carrick and Gustav Olofsson – are in COVID-19 protocol, too.
EBERLE, BLACKWELL BACK
There was no sight of Jordan Eberle at the first practice out of the holiday break on Monday. There was a good reason: Eberle, like defenseman Will Borgen and forward Colin Blackwell, were all saddled with travel restrictions preventing any return to the ice until Tuesday.
Eberle’s case involved a “tough day,” he said.
Coming from Calgary, Eberle said he spent ten hours at the airport with his wife Lauren and nearly two-year old daughter, managing time around a cancelled flight and airport luggage just to get back to Seattle.
Eberle, the Kraken leading goal scorer (12), got back to Seattle after spending last night at home, all to finally jump back in and regain a practice rhythm that was absent for him, the Kraken, and in reality - any NHL team – for about a week.
“You do stuff to keep yourself in it,” said Eberle. “You never want to go that long without doing something. Today I didn’t feel horrible. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t back to square one. It’s a little rusty the first day, and then you almost feel back to normal. That’s the experience I’ve always had coming back from breaks.”
“You get your lungs out, your legs going, and next day you feel pretty good.”
Blackwell, with three points in eight games while enduring a season wrinkled by injuries and COVID-19 protocol, was finally seen for his first full practice since early December and first game since a Dec. 3 triumph against the Edmonton Oilers, when he scored a crucial second period goal.
Since then, a lot of downtime. A high-energy forward who said he “got hit pretty bad” by COVID and “had five days of really bad symptoms, and five days of pretty mild” symptoms, was eligible to play coming out of protocol on Dec. 20. But the final three games before the regular season holiday break were postponed due to developing COVID-19 issues, leading to a longer period to come back to game form.
Blackwell recovered from a period he said where “he couldn’t touch a weight and struggled to do my own laundry,” but then mentally maintained through a steady viewing of Netflix and video games, primarily the NBA 2K series where he even created his own Seattle SuperSonics team and “brought the expansion draft back to Seattle."
He then resumed skating back home in Milwaukee during the holiday break, participating in skill drills with small groups.
“I’m itching to get back on the ice so today was awesome for me,” said Blackwell. “That’s good to get the lungs back for you after COVID and feet underneath you.”
“For me, my role has changed a lot throughout the season. I’ve played a couple different positions. At the blink of an eye a lot of things can change. This year is a perfect example of that.
For Blackwell, and other teammates dealing with a season of change, they’re now a part of an all hands on deck, next man up approach.
PRACTICE LINEUP: DEC. 27
Schwartz - Eberle - McCann
Johansson - Geekie - Blackwell
McCormick - Gourde - Jarnkrok
Wennberg - Sheahan - Donskoi
Giordano - Lauzon
Fleury - Borgen