John Forslund: 2 Seattle Kraken players worthy of more attention, Grubauer’s season

Jan 25, 2022, 1:58 PM
Seattle Kraken Adam Larsson...
Kraken D Adam Larsson looks to throw a stuffed salmon into the crowd after a Dec. 3 win over Edmonton. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken have shaken off the longest losing streak of their inaugural season, now having won three of their last four, including an impressive 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday that completed a two-game season sweep over one of the three teams tied for the most points in the NHL standings.

Seattle Kraken have decisions to make with 2 players on hot streaks

Nobody has watched the season closer than John Forslund, who has been there every step of the way (including the recent nine-game skid that preceded Seattle’s current strong stretch) as the voice of the Seattle Kraken on ROOT Sports broadcasts alongside color commentator J.T. Brown.

Last week, Forslund joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob to talk about the team, highlighting a couple of players worthy of some attention as well as sharing his thoughts on goalie Philipp Grubauer’s tough season.

You can hear the full interview with Forslund at this link or in the player here. Below, let’s break down the bigger takeaways.

The “emerging” Seattle Kraken leader

One name came to mind right away for Forslund in regards to an emerging leader.

“McCann is one of those,” he said.

That would be Jared McCann, a 25-year-old forward who the Kraken selected from Toronto in their expansion draft. A 2014 first-round pick by Vancouver, McCann is already on his fifth team in eight NHL seasons – you read that right, he debuted at 19 years old in 2015 – but most recently played with Pittsburgh, who traded him to Toronto last offseason. He did not have a chance to play for the Maple Leafs before the expansion draft, however.

In 36 games with Seattle, McCann has 15 goals, which is already one more than his previous career high, along with nine assists. He also currently owns a career-best shooting percentage (16.5%).

“He’s been a guy that I don’t think was given that opportunity elsewhere, certainly not in Pittsburgh,” Forslund said. “But here, it’s been like a steady progression. And that’s been good to see, fun to watch.”

The “underappreciated” defenseman

This was another question from Dave Wyman that Forslund immediately had an answer to. And as you might expect, when asked about an underappreciated player, Forslund pointed to defense.

“Adam Larsson, to me, is their best defenseman,” Forslund said. “He is a quiet guy in terms of the way he plays, how he presents himself. You look at his minutes, you look at his tough minutes that he plays short-handed, the blocked shots, the physicality, and the fact that he doesn’t make too many mistakes and he makes it look easy. Sometimes as a defenseman, they’re kind of like offensive linemen, if you don’t notice them (then) they’re doing a heck of a job, and Adam’s that kind of player.”

Larsson, 29, is in his 11th NHL season, spending his first five with New Jersey and the last five with Edmonton. While he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet (two goals and nine assists this season), the native of Sweden jumps out to those who watch the game as closely as Forslund does.

“He’s a terrific athlete. … Because of his capacity as an athlete, he’s able to play in the high 20s every night in terms of his minutes, and a lot of those minutes are against top matchups, top players on the other side and short-handed situations,” Forslund said. “So I’ve really enjoyed watching him. I think he’s a terrific pro. He’s a player that kind of keeps everything together back there. He doesn’t get a lot of press because he doesn’t put a lot of points on the board, (but) he’s had some big moments. It’s just the way he plays; it’s not going to really jump at you all the time. but if you watch closely, he’s a very important player.”

There is one stat of Larsson’s that jumps out, though: blocked shots. His 84 this season leads the Kraken and is tied for 13th in the NHL.

Gru in goal

Expectations coming into the season were for the Seattle Kraken to compete for a playoff spot, though that’s pretty much already out the window as they sit at 13-24-4 going into Tuesday’s game against Nashville, with their 30 points in the standings better than only one other team in the Western Conference (Arizona has 24). A lot of finger pointing has gone in the direction of Philipp Grubauer, the star goalie who was the Kraken’s most notable signing in free agency.

Grubauer has struggled overall a year after shining for Colorado, though the 30-year-old German had one of his better outings in Sunday’s victory over Florida.

Forslund shared his view on Grubauer’s season, saying that you can’t make a straight-up comparison of this year to what he did for the West Division champion Avalanche in the shortened 56-game 2021 season.

“It’s a tough comparison because he was on an elite team (last year) and he comes to an expansion team,” Forslund said. “… Let me just start with this: Philipp Grubauer is an excellent goalie. Has he played like one (this season)? No. His numbers are not very good – his general stats aren’t any good, his analytical numbers aren’t any good. But at times he has played well. And what I will say about watching his season is this: I thought he was dialed in at the beginning.”

Like Forslund said elsewhere in the interview, injuries and COVID-19 have been a factor all season for the Kraken, and an early injury to fellow goalie Chris Driedger didn’t do Grubauer any favors.

“I thought Chris Driedger’s injury at the outset of the season, the very beginning, that first five-game road trip, put them in a spot where Grubauer was playing probably too much. And then the team started to have their troubles defensively, and because of that, he was really being put into a tough spot.”

That was perhaps compounded by extra pressure.

“I’ll go back to the middle of November, the last time Chicago was here… after that loss to Chicago if you recall, he didn’t get to start against his old team, Colorado, and Driedger played that game, and there was some questioning going on. Even (Seattle Kraken head coach) Dave Hakstol said, ‘We need to get better, a save in this situation.’ It’s kind of an indirect shot at the goalie. I thought it was too early for that and I thought (Grubauer) started to put some pressure on himself. If you look at the highlights of that first Chicago game, it had nothing to do with Grubauer and everything to do with how they were playing through the middle of the ice defensively and what their defensive structure was. It was wasn’t any good at all, and that’s where they were during that six-game losing streak. And then I think Grubauer put a lot of pressure on himself – started overplaying pucks, overplaying angles, letting in soft goals, and then it’s a negative perfect storm.”

Even before Grubauer’s 28-save performance Sunday to beat Florida, though, Forslund was seeing positive signs from his play.

“I think he’s going to bounce back. I’ve been watching closely since they returned (from the NHL’s holiday break)… I thought he deserved a better fate in Denver (on Jan. 10). He played really well. The Dallas game, the team got off to a bad start but he battled his way through that one. And then he was excellent against Marc-Andre Fleury, who was absolutely stupendous for Chicago here Monday afternoon. So hopefully you can get on a run. He is an excellent goalie, I’ll stand behind that, and I believe there’s there’s a lot better stuff ahead with him. There has to be because they’re they’ve invested so much in him.”

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