Seattle Kraken Breakdown: Who will play center? It’s a good question now

Aug 17, 2022, 11:17 AM

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 12:  Alex Wennberg #21 of the Seattle Kraken skates against Pavel Dorofeyev #16 of the Vegas Golden Knights who was appearing in his first NHL game during the first period of the Kraken's inaugural regular-season game at T-Mobile Arena on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken skates against the New Jersey Devils at Climate Pledge Arena in 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images) Yanni Gourde looks on before a March 30 Seattle Kraken game against the Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) 
              Shane Wright pulls on a Seattle Kraken jersey after being selected with the fourth pick in the NHL hockey draft in Montreal on Thursday, July 7, 2022. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
            LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 12: Morgan Geekie #67 of the Seattle Kraken scores against Robin Lehner #90 of the Vegas Golden Knights at 7:58 of the third period of the Kraken's inaugural regular-season game at T-Mobile Arena on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Seattle Kraken left wing Jared McCann gestures after scoring a goal against the Islanders. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

A year ago, there were questions about who would play center for the Seattle Kraken. The NHL expansion draft left Seattle with a group of forwards who had played both the wing and in the middle, but there weren’t many obvious true centers, making it unclear who would play the pivot.

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There is still a question about who will play center this season, but that’s because the Kraken now have a glut of centers, including two young and budding stars.

Like any sport, being solid down the middle is crucial to success in hockey. The center has some specific responsibilities that separate the position from the wingers. Centers play a 200-foot game and help in the defensive end. They act as a third defenseman helping to retrieve the puck and getting the breakout in the other direction going. A center should also be able to drive play, set up teammates, and win key faceoffs.

With the additions of first-round picks Matty Beniers (2021) and Shane Wright (2022), both centers, the Kraken are stronger down the middle this season, which creates a good problem to have. Which four guys are going to be the club’s centers?

Here is a look at the main candidates to see ice time at the spot for the Kraken this coming season.

Alex Wennberg

Wennberg is the most experienced Kraken at playing in the middle. Settle signed him as a free agent last summer after he scored a career-high 17 goals for the Florida Panthers the season prior. With Seattle, he played almost exclusively in the middle and potted 11 goals, which were the third best of his NHL career.

Goal scoring isn’t Wennberg’s calling card, though. He is a pass-first player which led to occasions where he passed up shots to make a play. His underlying possession numbers show that Seattle had more shot attempts than it allowed at 5 on 5 when Wennberg was on the ice.

He averaged just over a shot per game, and while he could benefit from shooting more, he does help drive play. With the younger centers in the mix, don’t be surprised if Wennberg starts the year centering Seattle’s top line. Wennberg has the experience, which may help guys like Beniers and Wright get their feet under them early in the season.

Matty Beniers

Seattle’s first-ever draft pick joined the team for its final 10 games last season and made an instant splash, recording nine points and playing center on the top line between Ryan Donato and Jordan Eberle. It’s a small sample size, but the Kraken averaged three goals per game with him, while in the 72 games pre-Beniers they averaged 2.6 per game. That’s an interesting trend, but it’s too soon to say he’ll have that sort of impact for a full 82-game season.

Beniers will be 19 years old when the season starts and faces a tougher challenge. He’ll need to make adjustments and will face tougher matchups with the opposition game-planning specifically against him. He is the future, however, and if he handles the challenge – and there’s no reason to think he won’t – Beniers is on track to end up as the top center perhaps as soon as this season.

Yanni Gourde

A fan favorite, Gourde played almost exclusively at center for the Kraken in 2021-22. He scored 22 goals and 48 points and was a positive possession player. With Gourde on the ice at 5 on 5, the Kraken took 51% of the shot attempts and 57% of all shot quality. Gourde drove play and his speed and tenacity made him dangerous. He also played on the power play and was one of the Kraken’s best penalty killers. Simply said, Gourde did a little bit of everything and was one of the more consistent forwards.

In his past with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Gourde played on the wing, which speaks to his versatility. Might Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol look to tap into that this year and play him on the wing a little more? With the two young centers in the mix, Gourde would serve as a veteran presence on a line with either Beniers or Wright. He’s a guy who works with his linemates off the ice, watching film and looking for ways to create a strong attack. That’s something that could help young players a great deal.

Shane Wright

It wasn’t a bizarre fever dream – the Kraken actually were able to snag Wright, thought by many as destined to be the No. 1 overall pick, at No. 4 in the 2022 NHL Draft. He’s an exciting player who is a true center and appears to have all the attributes to play the pivot. He sees the ice well and can find his teammates with the puck, which was on display at the team’s development camp in July.

Wright obviously has yet to play in the NHL and is still somewhat of an unknown as far as what kind of production to expect in his rookie year, but this coming season will be a big development year for the rookie. And while the Kraken could possibly play him at the wing, he’s a center so it makes more sense to go ahead and give him the experience there. Where in the lineup Wright slots in remains to be worked out. Will he debut in the top six, or does it make sense to give him minutes in the bottom six?

Morgan Geekie

Still a young player, the 24-year-old Geekie set career highs in goals (seven), assists (15) and points (22) last year playing a lot at center for the Seattle Kraken. Geekie has the skill and works extremely hard, but he has yet to put it all together at the NHL level. Is this the year he does that?

Geekie has played a good deal of wing throughout his NHL career but had only been a center at every level on his way to the big leagues. Will Hakstol keep him as a fourth-line center or due to the abundance of centers push him back to the wing?

Jared McCann

Seattle’s leading scorer had a big season, and it earned him a contract extension. McCann started the season playing center, which is his preferred position, but moved to the wing midway through the year and continued to be productive. He has a good shot and finds ways to get himself in scoring position which serves him well on the wing. That’s where he projects to start this year and will be in Seattle’s top two lines.

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