Salk: What kind of player should be Seattle Kraken’s first NHL Draft pick?
The Seattle Kraken officially became an NHL team last month, but their first milestone towards building a roster officially began Wednesday night with the NHL Draft Lottery.
Seattle ended up with the No. 2 overall pick. The Kraken had been slotted in as the team with the third-best odds of taking home the top pick – a 10.3% chance – and were guaranteed to pick no later than fifth in the first round. Only the Buffalo Sabres (16.6%) and the Anaheim Ducks (12.1%) had better odds than the Kraken. The Sabres won the lottery and the first overall pick.
Of course, this was just the first of a few big nights for roster construction. The Kraken’s Expansion Draft will be on July 21 with the NHL Draft itself taking place July 23-24.
But the lottery is our first chance to start talking about who, or rather what, the franchise will be built upon.
Who should be the first Seattle Kraken draft pick?
If you are looking to get to know the top prospects in the draft, much has been written. Defenseman Owen Power appears to be the player with the most consensus to go No. 1, but this isn’t a year where one or two prospects stand out as the clear and obvious best. And since I won’t pretend to have seen any of these players much less scouted them, I can’t tell you who the Kraken should select. But the real fun is around what kind of a player they want.
Their first pick will be a glimpse into the future of what kind of team they want to be.
If the Kraken go with a defenseman – and this draft appears to be heavy on those – will they look for a shut-down, physical sort, or a puck-moving play starter who can spark their offense? Defensemen are largely grouped into these two categories, though the best of the best can do it all.
If they go with a forward, do they look for a two-way center, a distributor or a straight-up scoring winger? Two-way centers are invaluable – they are equally as effective in both the offensive and defensive zones, and the last handful of Stanley Cup winners have had at least one if not two. But like catchers in baseball, the position can take time to develop and they generally aren’t sexy for a fanbase that is largely new to the sport. Centers who rack up points with assists and snipers who can put the puck in the net are a whole lot easier for the new fan to get behind.
And while goalies may play the most important position in all of sports (along with quarterbacks), they are mercurial. Many have good years and bad ones. And like running backs, while it’s easy to spot the best and worst, the vast majority tend to be in between and dependent on either their defensive system or their current mental state. The top goalie in this draft, Jesper Wallstedt, just barely cracks the top 10 on most rankings, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights found theirs in the expansion draft, so my sense is that Seattle would be unlikely to go in this direction with their first pick.
“And the pick is…”
I’d start with a shut-down defenseman. Someone who can set a physical tone for the long-term direction of the team.
Offense is fun and important, but so many scoring chances are spawned from great defensive plays in your own end. And there is nothing more fun than rooting for the (metaphorical) bully. That’s something Seattle fans have experience with. This town went nuts for the Legion of Boom and was quite comfortable supporting their physical, intimidating style. Power certainly fits the bill, but if he’s gone, Simon Edvinsson has drawn comparisons to Victor Hedman and Chris Pronger, two exceptional models to build around.
Good NHL teams seem to be always looking for puck-moving defensemen who can help them break out of their own zone (in this class, look at Brandt Clarke). But many of those teams already have their shut-down guy, and picking at or near the top of the draft should net a player with multiple skills. It’s likely that a top pick could not only take care of business in front of his own net but also man the point on the power play and lead a dressing room.
Those who I’ve asked in the NHL world were split between the shut-down defenseman and the two-way center to be the Kraken’s first pick, and I understand the opposing argument: high-quality centers like that can impact the game whenever they are on the ice. Additionally, they are generally held less responsible for opposing goals, which can help the confidence of a young player and the support of new fans.
While there’s nothing like a premier goal scorer (Dylan Guenther and Kent Johnson may be the best in this class), I’d worry that position is too dependent on others around him. It would be like starting a football team with a wide receiver.
Regardless of the position, these are some adjectives I’d love to hear to describe the Kraken’s first pick: relentless, physical, smart and tough. Hopefully we’ll eventually be using those same terms to describe this franchise.