The 5 most important Seattle Kraken players for this season

Sep 7, 2022, 12:54 PM

Seattle Kraken Beniers McCann...

Matty Beniers celebrates a goal with Seattle Kraken teammate Jared McCann on April 16, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The game of hockey is the ultimate team sport. One star player isn’t going to win you a Stanley Cup – just ask the Edmonton Oilers, who have two star players and very little to show for it. You need a bunch of players who are all pulling the rope in the same direction.

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There are key players, however, a handful of guys who need to have good individual success in order for there to be team success.

The Seattle Kraken are no different. General manager Ron Francis improved the roster this summer and the Kraken will be better for the 2022-23 season. They’ll score more and be harder to play against but there are a group of players that need to show up.

Here are the five most important Kraken players heading into the franchise’s second season.

5. Vince Dunn

Dunn isn’t the type of defenseman who is going to wow you with end-to-end rushes, but he’s savvy and knows when to jump in the rush and contribute offensively. He had a rebound season with the Kraken in 2021-22, matching his career-best with 35 points. By season’s end, he had become the quarterback on Seattle’s top power-play unit. The Kraken didn’t have explosive defensemen when it came to their contributions on offense but a return to his early-career form from Dunn was encouraging.

This offseason, Seattle added Justin Schultz, who may help on the power play, but Dunn should still start with the No. 1 unit. The hope is that Schultz adds depth and Dunn remains the top guy. Dunn’s continued offensive ability will be huge as the Seattle Kraken look to increase their goal scoring.

4. Jared McCann

McCann had a breakout season for the Kraken, setting career highs in goals (27), assists (23) and points (50) on his way to leading the club in scoring. He was rewarded midway through the year by becoming the first Seattle player to have his contract extended – by four years at $5 million a year. Seattle added skill and goals to the forward lines this year, and McCann needs to have at least a repeat season so that those new players are truly additions and not filling a void.

He should be able to do so. He shot over 13% last season, which was slightly above his career mark of 10% but less than he shot in 2020-21, so his output does not appear to be a fluke. McCann spent a good deal of his career trapped behind a couple of Hall of Famers in Pittsburgh, and the Kraken have allowed him more opportunities in higher-leverage situations, including being a mainstay on the power play. Seattle doesn’t need him to set new career marks, but if he comes close to the same numbers at the minimum, the Kraken attack will be stronger.

3. Oliver Bjorkstrand

Bjorkstrand was the Kraken’s big get this offseason, and one that Francis swung with a clever trade that cost him almost nothing for a good player who may be on the precipice of becoming a great player. Bjorkstrand was had for just a third-round pick and fourth-round pick and is poised to be a scoring threat in Seattle.

He already was a scoring threat in Columbus and now is another guy on the Seattle roster coming off a career year. Bjorkstrand has improved from year to year, which is good news, and at 27 years old may not have reached his ceiling yet. With the Kraken, he’ll be a top-line forward and the expectation is that he’ll lead the team in scoring and spark an increase in goals. Look for Bjorkstrand on the top power play where he scored nine times last year with the Blue Jackets.

If he lives up to the expectation and hype, the Kraken will not only score more but have scoring depth. Last season the Kraken had good players but not true ‘top six’ players. Bjorkstrand, along with free agent pickup Andre Burakovsky and returning players McCann and Yanni Gourde, allow the Kraken to have a stronger top six forward group, which will lead to more favorable matchups for guys like Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz and Brandon Tanev.

2. Matty Beniers

The highly anticipated NHL debut of the Kraken’s first-ever draft pick did not disappoint last spring. Beniers signed in time to play the final 10 games for Seattle and was impressive. It’s hard not to buy in on Beniers-mania after he put up nine points in those 10 games, with the team averagig half a goal per game more with him in the lineup.

He enters his second season with a ton of expectations and fans penciling him in as the top center. A big question and unknown heading into this season is what kind of production will Beniers provide this year. He’ll be just 19 when the season opens and he’s still a rookie with very little NHL experience.

Beniers will have a tougher challenge this season, as well. Opponents know who he is now and will start game-planning against him, which didn’t happen much during his limited time at the end of last season. Beniers mostly played in meaningless games last year. Teams will match up against him this season, so he’ll face better opposition that could slow down his production.

That being said, Beniers has shown at every level – which includes international tournaments against older, pro players – that he can handle the challenge. It won’t be surprising if he struggles, but it also is just as likely that he contributes and ends up in the running to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. If he’s productive, he could be a catalyst that turns Seattle into a playoff contender.

1. Philipp Grubauer

With all the improvements the team made by adding goal scorers to the lineup, none of it will matter if the goaltending doesn’t improve. To put it in the nicest terms possible, it was a struggle for Grubauer at times last season.

The first half of the season was especially tough, and even though he was marginally better in the second half, Grubauer ended with a career-worst .889 save percentage. His previous career low was .916. Early on there was talk that he was still adjusting to a new team and new defensemen, and that adjustment took time. Those excuses won’t hold water anymore after a full season with the Kraken. There were defensive mistakes in the first half of the season that hung Grubuaer out to dry, but he and the team have to improve for the Kraken to have any chance.

Seattle doesn’t need Grubauer to bounce back to his career-highs, but getting closer to his career average of .914 will help. Backup goalie Chris Driedger will not be available for most of the coming season after suffering a knee injury at the IIHF World Championships playing for Team Canada, which puts more of a load on Grubauer. Seattle brought in Veteran Martin Jones to fill in as the No. 2 guy this year but will lean more on Grubauer. He’ll have to hold that weight.

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