The days have passed where two practices rule the schedule.
It’s down to one. Hockey season’s getting closer.
The Seattle Kraken were busy Sunday morning before what head coach Dave Hakstol termed an 11:00 am practice just to “get up and down” the rink, reducing their roster size to 29 players after a Saturday night 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks to keep their pre-season record perfect through four games.
Opening night in Anaheim is ten days away, and along with the ticking clock, comes with tough decisions as far as who stays and who goes. Hakstol previously hinted at healthy competition especially with the bottom six forward combos in Saturday night’s game, potentially influencing the next round of cuts where Shane Wright centered Brandon Tanev and Daniel Sprong, while Morgan Geekie centered Max McCormick and Jesper Froden.
Word became truth less than 12 hours later after the Kraken cleared the dressing room Saturday night. Aside from the already entrenched Tanev, others like Wright, Sprong and Geekie survived the round of cuts.
McCormick and Froden were given their marching orders to the AHL, arguably the top development league in the world, likely where more productive ice time awaits them with the affiliate expansion Coachella Valley Firebirds.
It’s a sign of increased depth and competition this year, a door the Kraken weren’t yet able to unlock last season as their own expansion franchise.
“We’ve had guys who’ve had good camps, they’re good pros,” said Hakstol. “They’ve done a nice job whether in practice or exhibition games they’ve been in.”
“We all know it – a lot of those guys are going to be a part of (the NHL), at some point in time.”
Froden and McCormick must clear waivers first before reporting to Coachella Valley, identically to Sunday’s reassigned prospects Andrew Poturalski (the AHL’s reinging back-to-back scoring champ), Cameron Hughes, Kole Lind, Gustav Olofsson, Austin Poganski, Brogan Rafferty, Carsen Twarynski, and goaltender Magnus Hellberg.
Luke Henman, Tye Kartye, Ville Petman, Peetro Seppala, Matt Tennyson and Jimmy Schuldt were also cut loose from training camp and have been reassigned to the Firebirds immediately. It’s only a walk down the hallway: the Firebirds are training out of Kraken Community Iceplex and will play four games in the area until construction of their home venue, Acrisure Arena, is completed in December.
That’s left the Kraken narrowing down the roster to 30 players. A maximum amount of 23 players, healthy, will make the final cut. Already, goaltender Chris Driedger has been ruled out until at least next January, and defenseman Michal Kempny and forward Joonas Donskoi are now question marks – both left the win at Vancouver on Thursday with injuries and Hakstol said their status will be clarified by Monday.
Depending on their status and barring further injuries, that leaves possibly four more spots needing to be wiped away. John Hayden, an under-the-radar signing who scored and fought twice on Thursday, is still here. Budding 2021 draft pick and 20-year-old defenseman Ryker Evans is still here. Forward Daniel Sprong, with a terrifyingly hard shot and has drawn compliments from Hakstol for his improved all-around game, is still here while on a tryout. Alex True and Cale Fleury, who spent a majority of last season in the AHL with occasional call-ups, are still here.
Oh, and this scenario nobody saw coming until July 7 when the Kraken drafted him: Wright is still here.
There are only two paths for Wright at age 18: he is not yet eligible to play in the AHL, so either he will make the big club, or he must be sent back (as late as nine games into his NHL tenure) to the major junior ranks and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League and develop there instead.
But the latter draws the question, where would time this year serve him better? By consensus this summer, he was one of the few potential “plug and play” blue chip prospects in this year’s draft. Wright hasn’t just stuck around, he has been featured, showcased, and responsive.
He earned his first NHL point against mature and experienced competition in Thursday’s win at Vancouver with Hakstol saying afterward, “we didn’t hide him.” He’s earned consistent top power play unit time and nearly cashed in on a pair of high-grade looks on Saturday. In a pre-season where players are routinely swapped out for rest or to give another hopeful a shot in the lineup, Wright is three games into this journey and hasn’t sat in the press box since last Monday’s pre-season opener.
In Kingston as a teenage forward last year, he put up dominating numbers, with 94 points in 63 games.
That leaves plenty of burning questions this week, with two games left to answer. Very likely, the answers will involve more necessary survival.
“Things start to pick up, it gets more physical, and there’s more contact,” said Jordan Eberle. “That’s always an exciting part, getting ready for that.”
KRAKEN PRACTICE LINEUP, OCT. 2: