The key lineup dilemma the Seattle Kraken face as season progresses

Oct 31, 2022, 12:41 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:40 pm

Seattle Kraken Shane Wright...

Shane Wright of the Seattle Kraken in action against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 17, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Kraken were tied late in the second period during Saturday’s game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With under two minutes left, Daniel Sprong took a shot that was stopped by Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith. The puck rebounded to where Seattle’s Morgan Geekie took it and flipped it back over DeSmith for what would end up being the game-winner in a 3-1 Kraken win. It was the second goal in three games for Geekie and third assist for Sprong over the same stretch.

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The two haven’t always been in the Kraken lineup this year, having been healthy scratches earlier in the season. With the depth the team has added up front it’s been tougher for players like Geekie and Sprong to find consistent playing time.

Traditionally, a fourth line’s role is to play limited minutes, not give up much, and give the top forward lines a breather. But so far, Seattle is getting offensive contributions from its fourth line which gives them a matchup advantage at the bottom of the lineup.

The trick is finding ice time for all the players that have made up the fourth line.

“There’s competition to be in the lineup,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said the day after a 5-1 win over Buffalo where the fourth line was responsible for three goals. “That’s just the nature of the beast and those guys went in last night and did some nice things for our team and were a big part of a win. You can look back to the previous games to other players that have been in the [lineup] and see the impact that they’ve made sometimes in limited minutes. It’s a difficult job to have an impact and positive impact, especially when you’re playing limited minutes, but it’s part of that role, and it’s what you need to bring to the table.”

Being productive in limited fourth-line minutes is tough and so far, how players have handled that has determined who plays. Seattle has better options this year and it’s a good problem to have.

Here’s a look at the forwards in the mix.

Morgan Geekie

Having been healthy scratched in three of Seattle’s games, the 24-year-old center has taken advantage of his playing time. He scored in two of the last three games and added an assist against Chicago in the game before the recent homestand.

Always loaded with skill, Geekie, who is still getting his feet wet in the NHL, had yet to put it all together in the NHL. He’s played well of late and it will be hard for Hakstol to leave him out of the lineup moving forward.

He’s good on the faceoff and has had an effective shot early on in his career. Geekie has size, kills penalties, and in his seven games this year has been on the ice for five goals for and none against while playing at even strength.

Daniel Sprong

Not a lock to make the Kraken roster, Sprong put in a strong training camp and as a reward had his pro tryout turned into a contract for the season. He had to miss the first two games as he was stuck in Canada after the Kraken final preseason game dealing with immigration paperwork.

He had only played in one game prior to the Buffalo game last week but earned time in all three home games. He scored a goal with two assists in the game against the Sabres and set up Geekie’s goal last Saturday.

Armed with a heavy shot the question surrounding Sprong was could he be an all-around player? He showed strong in that area during the preseason and so far when he’s been in, has done so in the regular season.

Right now, it would be hard to argue against more games in the lineup for Sprong who has four points in four games.

Ryan Donato

The versatile Donato has been healthy scratched three times this season but always seems to find a way to impact a game he plays in. When he’s in the lineup Hakstol doesn’t always limit him to the fourth line but with the way his top forward lines are playing that may be Donato’s role early on.

He can score, he can set up plays, and always makes himself noticeable when he’s on the ice. Donato’s teammates love him and he’s the epitome of a team player. It must be tough to write his name in as a scratch for Hakstol.

After not playing in the first two games of the recent homestand, Donato was back in the lineup against the Penguins where he got 12 shifts and just over eight minutes of ice time.

Shane Wright

The Wright conundrum has been a hot topic around the Kraken campfire so far this season. Everybody has an opinion on the best way to handle the 18-year-old’s development. He’s been a healthy scratch for five of Seattle’s 10 games this year and has only played more than eight minutes once.

Part of the issue with his ice time is that he is not on either special team’s unit which has contributed to his limited time on the ice. He has one assist and at times looks good while at others it is clear he is still in the early stages of learning the NHL game.

If competition is the key to being in the lineup, right now, it’s hard to argue Wright over other players. If the Kraken are serious about Wright spending the season in the NHL, then at some point he needs to be in the lineup. The question is, who do you take out?

The Joonas Donskoi dilemma

Hanging over all fourth-line decisions is Donskoi, who is still on Injured Reserve. When he returns, not only will the fourth line become more crowded but a roster move will have to be made. It’s hard to find a clear guy to be sent down. Wright’s only choice would be sent back to junior hockey for the Season. Sprong is on a two-way contract meaning he could be sent to the AHL but would have to clear waivers, but the way he’s playing doesn’t make that an automatic.

We still don’t know when Donskoi will return but it’s a situation to watch when attempting to figure out who is going to play each night.

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