Now healthy, Yanni Gourde will give Seattle Kraken a shot of lightning

Oct 21, 2021, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:34 am

Seattle Kraken Yanni Gourde...

Yanni Gourde skates in his first game with the Seattle Kraken against New Jersey on Tuesday night. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On the first day of Seattle Kraken training camp in September, general manager Ron Francis said that center Yanni Gourde was ahead of schedule in rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Tuesday, we found out just how far ahead he was as the 29-year-old center came off injured reserve and joined the Kraken lineup for their game in New Jersey.

What we learned from the Seattle Kraken’s first week in the NHL

When the Kraken selected Gourde from the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning during the NHL Expansion Draft in July, they knew they were going to have to wait. Gourde underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum that he’d been dealing with for some time, and the early timetable was for a December return.

Now that he’s back over a month earlier than expected, he is going to have a big impact on everything the Seattle Kraken do on the ice.

It’s not overly surprising that Gourde is back so quickly. When camp opened he was there on the ice but wearing a red jersey, which signifies no contact. He skated hard, fast, and with high energy, and after a couple of weeks he hit the ice in a blue jersey. Was he back?

“When I wear red, guys are super careful out there and don’t do much so I need to get a bit more bumps in,” Gourde said at the time. “It just doesn’t mean much. I mean, it’s just a different color. We’re still working. It’s a work in process to get back in shape and get back, ready to play, but we’re not there yet.”

You have to love a player who is looking for more contact.

Gourde continued to practice with no visible restrictions – and continued to look good. When the team left for its opening week road trip, he was on the plane.

Not only was he back on the ice Tuesday night in the final game of the Kraken’s five-game road trip to open the season, but he centered Seattle’s top line, picked up an assist, and annoyed the Devils.

It wasn’t enough to win, but it was just a tiny glimpse of what he’s going to bring.

“Great energy tonight. He brought a real boost to our lineup,” Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said after the game. “He brings life to the bench and he brings the exact same thing on the ice. He was a productive guy out there. He made some plays and created some O-zone time with two linemates he’s never played with before.”

Gourde was no shoo-in to make it to the NHL

After not being drafted by an NHL team – despite good numbers in junior hockey – Gourde knew that his journey to the NHL was going to be tough.

His start came in the American Hockey League when he signed a free-agent deal with the Worcester Sharks in 2012. He scored eight goals his first season and then became a bit of a minor league nomad.

After that first year, he was back in Worcester for part of a season but also played with the now defunct San Francisco Bulls and the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL. At the tail end of that season he would sign on with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, his fourth team that year.

Syracuse is an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and that’s where things changed for Gourde. He started scoring goals and got a brief two-game call-up to the NHL in 2015. He was a big part of Syracuse’s Calder Cup run in 2017, scoring nine times with 27 points in 22 games.

It was a preview of Gourde showing up at the biggest times, something that Tampa Bay discovered in the years following as he became a Lightning regular.

The dedication and work ethic it took to keep believing shows up in the way Gourde plays. He’s always moving forward and at top speed.

“There were definitely times that it was harder than others, but I kept battling and I kept pushing,” Gourde said. “Anytime I step on the ice, I want to give it my all and I want to get better, and that’s been my mentality and it’s been my mentality for a long time. It’s probably why I reached the NHL.”

How will Gourde impact the Seattle Kraken?

We got a look Tuesday.

Gourde’s line was on the ice more than any other Kraken forward line, and it created chances. There were close calls. On two occasions Gourde and Jaden Schwartz just missed connecting, with the puck either barely out of reach or hopping over Schwartz’s stick.

With his speed and vision, Gourde will help push the pace for the Kraken and give them a consistent top line. Eventually, those chances will be cashed in. Overall, the Gourde line created seven scoring chances against the Devils, more than any other Kraken line. It was the first game the three – Gourde, Schwartz and Jordan Eberle – have played together and there was still some feeling out.

“It’s pretty tough to come in with new linemates, but I think we did a good job of simplifying things and going north and going deep,” Gourde said after the game.

Seattle will finally get some practice time which will help Gourde, Schwartz, and Eberle build on what was a good first game.

It’s not just in the offensive zone where Gourde will impact the Kraken’s cause, though. He’s a ferocious penalty killer, as seen Tuesday. Look for Hakstol to tap Gourde as one of the first guys over the board when Seattle is shorthanded.

Not only does Gourde’s hustle and quickness help kill penalties, but he isn’t shy about looking to score when his team is down a man as he did in Game 7 of Tampa’s Stanley Cup win in June.

Gourde’s style of play is infectious, and while his teammates love it, he has been known from time to time to annoy opponents. On Tuesday after a whistle in front of the Devils net, New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson was not happy with Gourde. Severson gave him a couple of shots to the chest. Gourde laughed.

In fact, Gourde is usually smiling on and off the ice. His experience and drive are respected by his teammates and a big reason why he was named an alternate captain for the Kraken.

The five-game road trip didn’t go as well as Seattle had hoped, but the 1-3-1 Kraken have home dates at Climate Pledge Arena coming, starting Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks (airing live at 7 p.m. on ESPN+). Seattle will feed off the crowd but will do so with an extra shot of lightning on their roster.

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