Where does 2021 2nd-round pick Ryker Evans fit in with Seattle Kraken?
A couple of weeks after signing Matty Beniers, the Seattle Kraken signed their second 2021 NHL Draft pick on Friday. The team announced that their second-round pick, defenseman Ryker Evans, had signed his entry-level deal after his season in the WHL came to an end.
Seattle Kraken sign 2nd-round pick Ryker Evans to entry level deal
This came with slightly less fanfare than Beniers’ signing did. There were no graphics or video footage of his airport arrival but that’s the difference between second overall in the draft and 35th overall, which is where Evans was selected last July.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important step.
Evans, 20, was one of the better defensemen in the Western Hockey League last season. Playing with the Regina Pats, he scored 14 goals, 47 assists, and 61 points in 63 games, which put him third on the Pats scoring and seventh in the league for scoring from a defenseman.
He thrived on special teams as well, scoring six power-play goals and setting up 26 more. Three of his goals were game-winning goals.
He’s listed at 6-feet tall and 190 pounds and while he won’t scare anyone with bruising hits in the defensive zone, he may end up giving opposing coaches fits with his offensive ability. Evans is a puck-moving offensive defenseman, and the big question now will be can he translate his success in junior hockey to the pros, and will he crack the Seattle lineup this fall?
Evans is an older prospect, a late bloomer if you will, but kept getting better each year, and all of his scoring numbers this season were career highs. He was in training camp this past fall with the Seattle Kraken and was impressive. In drills and scrimmages, he showed off some puck-moving skill, slick moves, and played as if he belonged.
He wasn’t intimidated at all, even playing a preseason game on the road. All that carried into the regular WHL season where he started hot and never slowed down.
Now that he’s signed, what’s next for Evans
The team announced Friday that Evans will fly to Charlotte and join the Checkers for their AHL playoff run. He’ll practice with the pros and is eligible to play if needed. So, he’ll get a taste of the pro hockey lifestyle, speed, and skill.
After the playoffs he’ll spend his summer working out to prepare for his second training camp with the Seattle Kraken in the fall, hoping he can crack the lineup.
“Ryker came in last year and was a real pleasant surprise in camp,” general manager Ron Francis said last month. “It’s not every day you see a young guy play with that kind of confidence and moxie and I thought he did a real good job. He’s had a great season down there this year in Regina. Most younger guys need extra strength. So, that’s something hopefully over the course of summer he’ll get stronger in his game. And then it’s coming in and it’s just learning a little bit more about the NHL game, it’s more structured and more disciplined.”
If he does get strong enough and repeats that same confidence and moxie, don’t be surprised if he ends up on the opening night roster. While the Kraken have a good defensive group, the one thing missing is a dynamic puck-moving defenseman.
Evans was that guy in juniors and if he can replicate it this fall, the Kraken offensive attack will improve.
“He’s a real confident kid that skates well and moves the puck well,” Francis said. “He’ll have every opportunity to come in here and show us what he can do in camp. If he makes the team, great. If not, then it’s not the end of the world to go down to [AHL] Palm Springs and play some games and develop down there.”
Where would Evans fit?
There aren’t obvious rosters spots for Evans as the season comes to an end. Seattle will make changes this summer and while most of those should be within the forward group, there is still a chance the defense looks different.
Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson are locks to return to the Kraken. Both are under contract and have had solid seasons. Larsson has arguably been Seattle’s best overall defenseman and set a new career-high in goals.
Vince Dunn has really come on this year for the Kraken and leads the team in assists. He is a two-way defenseman who handles his own end, can pass the puck, and has a savvy knack for knowing when to fill in on offense. Carson Soucy had a strong season as well and should be a lock to return.
With the top four defensemen somewhat set, Evans will need to prove more valuable than a group of younger guys who have all had up and down seasons.
The two brothers Haydn and Cale Fleury are both restricted free agents and Francis has a tough call here. Haydn was a regular scratch early in the season, got into the lineup after the NHL Trade Deadline but has struggled with an injury since. Cale has shown some signs, but inexperience may cost him.
Will Borgen has one more year on his contract which may be enough to keep him. He’s young and while he hasn’t put up big numbers, his underlying analytics are strong.
Evans potentially has a different skill set than most of the returning defensemen and if that skill shows in training camp, he could replace one of these players. Defense is a tough position to play, especially for a young rookie. As Francis hinted, the American Hockey League may be the most likely starting place for Evans but don’t be surprised if at some point next season, he’s playing NHL games.
Matty Beniers off to great start, but Seattle Kraken still need skill on offense