With a smile on his face, Yanni Gourde does everything for Seattle Kraken

Apr 27, 2022, 4:40 PM
Seattle Kraken Yanni Gourde...
Yanni Gourde looks on before a March 30 Seattle Kraken game against the Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Kraken forward Yanni Gourde is always smiling. It doesn’t matter if it’s during a grueling practice, in the middle of exchanging punches with an opponent in a game, or being photographed arriving at the rink wearing a stylish hat, which has been his go-to accessory for game day outfits.

“I don’t know where it’s from,” Gourde said about the hats – with, of course, a smile. “My wife bought one and I started wearing it. And I’ve been doing that for a few years now.”

On the ice, the 30-year-old Gourde has been everything the Kraken had hoped he would be when they selected him from the Tampa Bay Lightning last July in their NHL Expansion Draft.

Tuesday: Vancouver Canucks beat Seattle Kraken 5-2

Gourde was the obvious choice for Seattle to select from the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs, who had a roster overflowing with talent and would be forced to lose a quality player. Gourde had played a big role in Tampa’s Cup runs, scoring big goals – even series-clinching goals – but the Lightning couldn’t protect everybody.

With Seattle, Gourde has worn many hats. You need him to play on the power play? He’ll do it. Kill penalties? No worries. Take on the opponent’s top line? Done. Score some big goals? No problem.

“I think you guys see it every day, just his passion and how hard he plays,” Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s playing in every situation right now, and in some cases that’s probably a little unfair to him because there’s some nights we’re probably using him a little bit too much. But as we’ve gotten into the second half of the year, he’s thrived off that. He’s adjusted to some of that extra ice time and he continues to be a driver with his energy.”

Gourde has been a constant for the Kraken this year, which is why he’s been the team’s most valuable player during its inaugural season.

“It’s been kind of a roller coaster with obviously wanting to be in the playoffs that didn’t happen,” Gourde said. “Then the last little bit trying to build a little bit of a culture standard for the season coming. It’s been a learning experience, but a fun one and I can’t wait to finish the season and start next season and be ready to go.”

The roller coaster started early as he missed the first week of the season, rehabbing offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum he had suffered through past playoff battles while in Tampa. Around the holidays, he missed another week with COVID.

He has smiled all the way through that and has stayed productive.

Gourde had a three-game goal-scoring streak stopped Tuesday night in Vancouver, but he has 20 on the season heading into Wednesday’s game with the Los Angeles Kings. It’s the third time in his six-year NHL career he’s hit that mark (he had 17 in 56 games during a pandemic-shortened schedule in 2021).

He’s a driver of play with good possession numbers, especially when you consider who he’s often matched up with night in and night out. Thanks to various injuries and players out with COVID, Gourde has played up and down the lineup with a variety of linemates. He’s found chemistry with everyone. In the second half he teamed with Colin Blackwell and it made for a fun line to watch, playing with speed and tenacity on the forecheck and penalty kill.

After Blackwell was traded to Toronto at March’s NHL trade deadline, Karson Kuhlman was moved to Gourde’s line, and they haven’t missed a beat.

That’s not by accident. It’s something Gourde works on.

“My game is pretty simple. Like, I tried to keep a simple game,” he said. “Chip the puck in and get on the forecheck, do the little things right. As soon as I get the new liney, I make sure that we do videos together, that we do puck flips, and we have structure when we go on the ice and we are more automatic. When you’re automatic, you go faster and it’s easier to play with one another. It’s kind of those plays that I like to talk to my liney about.”

This first season in Seattle has been an adjustment for all of the Kraken in a new city with new teammates.

Gourde played for the top team in the league the past three seasons, and he’s used to still having a month and a half of meaningful games to play at this time of the year. This season, he knows the Kraken are done after Sunday in Winnipeg.

“Definitely feels weird,” he said. “Obviously you want to be in the playoffs every year. Obviously didn’t happen this year, but playing meaningful games is something that you want and that’s really when you see your true self. It’s been harder not having those games lately but I’ve been trying to find a way every game to bring something and bring my energy”

Gourde is ready to play those meaningful games again and is encouraged by what he’s seen from the Kraken over the last month or two. Seattle has played some of its best hockey of late, including a recent franchise-best three-game win streak.

He knows there will be roster improvements coming and is looking forward to the team putting a better foot forward in 2022-23.

“We absolutely kind of found a way, an identity, a way that we play effectively, and it’s nice to see that,” Gourde said.

After the season’s end on Sunday, Gourde will return home to Quebec, and after a little break will get back to the gym, back on the ice looking to improve. You can bet he’ll do it with a smile on his face.

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With a smile on his face, Yanni Gourde does everything for Seattle Kraken