Breaking down surprise Seattle Kraken contributors Sprong and Tolvanen

Feb 3, 2023, 12:20 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:34 pm
Seattle Kraken Eeli Tolvanen...
Eeli Tolvanen of the Seattle Kraken celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames at Climate Pledge Arena on January 27, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken being in first place has come as a pleasant surprise and certainly, nobody in the NHL foresaw this type of improvement in Year 2 of the franchise. Why the Kraken have had this jump in success has been well documented. A well-managed summer brought in skill and scoring, the defense has gelled, and the goaltending isn’t perfect, but has improved.

Grading the Seattle Kraken position groups in 1st half of season

Beyond the obvious reasons, two players have had breakout years for the Kraken and are unexpected contributors to the Seattle formula.

Neither Daniel Sprong nor Eeli Tolvanen were counted on this offseason yet both have scored big goals for the Kraken, added to the scoring depth, and will be key players down the stretch.

Daniel Sprong

Acquired as a throw-in during a trade with the Washington Capitals at last spring’s NHL Trade Deadline, Sprong’s importance has grown. The Kraken sent forward Marcus Johansson to the Capitals for a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 sixth-round pick, and Sprong, a 25-year-old winger who had previously played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks prior to Washington.

He played in 16 games for Seattle at the end of last season and scored six goals.

That raised some eyebrows, but his overall game was somewhat lacking. He showed that he had a shot, but when it came to playing a full, defensive game away from the puck, Sprong had not proved he could do it.

As a restricted free agent this summer, Sprong was not tendered a qualifying offer and it looked like maybe he wasn’t in the Kraken’s future. By not giving him a qualifying offer, Sprong became an unrestricted free agent, but the Kraken wanted to kick the tires again and signed Sprong to a professional tryout (PTO) in September and invited him to training camp.

“He’s just got to go out and compete, two-way,” head coach Dave Hakstol said early on in last fall’s training camp. “Spronger and I had a real honest conversation at the end of last year, he knows the things he was very effective at with us down the stretch at the end of last year… he generates on the offensive side of the game, he has a knack for doing that. He has a scoring touch, we know that. For him, when you look at training camp, he’s one of the guys that can make this real competitive.”

Challenge laid down, and challenge accepted.

Sprong had a strong camp and even stronger showing in the preseason games, going out and proving that he can play a complete game.

“Going into free agency and not getting what I wanted was kind of a wakeup call,” he said at the time. “Needed to change something in my game and I think I’ve shown that I can, just trying to make a statement… Everyone knows I can play on the offensive side, I can shoot the puck, but it’s the little things and I think I’ve shown that I can.”

The Kraken brass noticed and Sprong’s PTO was turned into a contract. He’s more than earned it with his play. Limited to mostly a fourth-line role, Sprong has taken advantage of his opportunity and scored 15 goals with 14 assists for 29 points in his first 42 games.

The scoring numbers are all career highs for him and he’s earned a regular spot on the Kraken power play, where he’s scored five times. He has 10 goals scored at 5-on-5 and has done so while averaging just over nine minutes a night.

He’s been taking care of his own end and with Sprong, the fourth line hasn’t and doesn’t give up much. Not a guarantee when the Kraken opened training camp, Sprong has earned his way into being a key contributor.

Eeli Tolvanen

While Sprong wasn’t a sure thing this fall, Tolvanen was not on the radar, playing for a different team.

Selected with the 30th pick overall by the Nashville Predators during the 2017 NHL Draft, Tolvanen broke camp this fall with Nashville. He had turned in back-to-back 11-goal seasons over his first two full seasons in the NHL and seemed like a young player on the rise.

He had played in 13 games for the Predators this year, becoming a healthy scratch more often than not. Nashville was dealing with injury and salary cap issues and decided to put Tolvanen on waivers on Dec. 11, thinking nobody would claim him, hoping to send him to their American Hockey League team and eventually bring him back.

Kraken general manager Ron Francis wasted no time in claiming him on Dec 12. After a couple of weeks of practice to get comfortable with his new team, Seattle put him in the lineup on Jan. 1 against the New York Islanders. He scored that first night, blasting a big shot on the power play from the faceoff circle, and took off from there.

Playing on a line with Yanni Gourde, Tolvanen has scored eight goals while picking up two assists in his first 15 games with the Kraken, including a goal in each of the three games leading up to the break.

The Predators and their general manager David Poile have since admitted that perhaps they made a mistake with Tolvanen. Tovanen, 23, is happy with the opportunity he’s had to prove himself so far.

“It means a lot. There were some rough patches at the start of this year,” Tolvanen said. “Hockey wasn’t that much fun. Just coming here and getting the trust from the coaches and getting the opportunity to play a lot, it feels really good.”

Like Sprong, the book on Tolvanen was that he had a shot with offensive upside, but was a bit of a one-trick pony.

We’ve seen the shot and that he has a nose for the net, but he’s shown that’s not all he brings. It’s been another pleasant surprise for Seattle.

“He’s just a good hockey player,” Hakstol said following the Kraken’s 3-1 win over Columbus. “He does way more than score. He’s a guy that you see his hockey sense. He’s got some defensive DNA to him. He understands the game, where to be, he’s one of those guys that finds the shooting lane defensively, and he’s got a good stick. He’s got some toughness to him. Like, he’s not a guy that just tries to block a shot, he actually blocks shots, gets there and he does it. So, you know, the defensive part of his game is something that I’m learning. I didn’t know that about his game.”

The Kraken will tip their collective hat to the Predators for making a mistake and continue to enjoy Tolvanen’s contribution.

Seattle’s first-half success has been a surprise and they’ll need the big guns like Andre Burakovsky, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, and Matty Beniers to continue the way they’ve played. Every good NHL team has its core, but also has role players, players that may have been overlooked initially, who come through.

For the Kraken, Sprong and Tolvanen may just end up being the surprises that result in a playoff berth.

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