Kraken Takeaways: How is youth coming along? GM Ron Francis’ insight

Jun 4, 2023, 4:42 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)

As good as the 2022-23 season went for the Seattle Kraken, their future looks to be even better.

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Sure, the Kraken made an impressive run in the playoffs led by veterans with postseason experience like Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann and Philipp Grubauer (just to name a few), but just two seasons removed from joining the NHL as an expansion team, Seattle has a lot of young talent in the pipeline.

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Thursday fresh off agreeing to a contract extension with the team, and he hit on a number of young players during the conversation. Let’s break down what he had to say.

What’s next for Matty Beniers?

Beniers is the front-runner to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie for the 2022-23 campaign after scoring 24 goals and making 33 assists in 80 games this season, plus three goals and four assists in 14 playoff contests.

Not bad for someone who won’t turn 21 until a month into next season.

So what comes next for the lefty-shooting center?

“Some of it’s just gonna be Mother Nature taking its time,” said Francis, a Hall of Famer as a player who like Beniers was a first-round NHL Draft pick. “We’re hoping that he has the ability to put on probably 10 or 15 pounds in the next two, three years.”

Beniers is listed as 6 foot 2 and 178 pounds, so it’s understandable that he has room on his frame to add weight.

“(Hopefully) the player you see today will be different from the player you see two to three years down the road as he gets a little bit bigger and stronger and fills out. I probably can help them with that if he just wants to hang around with me for a month or so, I can probably put some weight on him in a hurry,” Francis quipped. “But you know, that’s probably the biggest thing for Matty, sort of getting that strength. You can see him in some of the battles, he’s a little bit light, and part of it is he just he doesn’t take a shift off, right? He’s an engine, he goes, gives you everything he has every shift. You know, those kind of guys it’s tough to put weight on, but that’s probably the area that we could kind of stress for him to get a little bit better.”

Why is hard work an emphasis about Shane Wright?

Brock and Salk host Mike Salk noticed that when both Francis and Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol have talked since the season ended about the team’s 2022 first-round pick, Shane Wright, they spoke about him needing to work hard this offseason. Naturally, Salk asked why.

“Well, we’re trying to establish a culture here with the Kraken, and everything that we have preached from Day 1 is you come in and you earn it,” Francis said.

Not too hard to read between the lines there.

Morosi: “The big question” for the Seattle Kraken focuses on Wright

A lot was made of Wright’s fall in the 2022 NHL Draft. He had been expected for quite some time to be the No. 1 overall pick but ultimately landed with Seattle, which had the fourth overall selection. The 19-year-old center appeared in eight games with the Kraken last season, registering one goal and one assist, but he never stayed in one place for long. He was loaned out to Team Canada to play in the World Junior Championship, spent 20 games with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, and played eight games total over two stints with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the Kraken’s affiliate in the American Hockey League.

As Francis continued his answer about Wright, he pointed to Tye Kartye as a player who exemplifies the culture the team is tying to build. A 22-year-old undrafted wing, Kartye made his NHL debut with the Kraken in the postseason, scoring three goals and making two assists in 10 playoff games.

“A great example of that is Tye Kartye. We signed him as an unrestricted free agent, (he) didn’t get drafted as a junior, went into Coachella and started on the fourth line,” Francis said. “He wasn’t handed a top-six position or top-line position or powerplay – he had to earn that stuff. He went through the season, continued to get better, and then by the end of season he’s playing games here in Seattle. That’s no different than the players we have here, the players we have in Coachella, the players that we draft. That’s the message we want to send to our people. Nothing will be handed to you, you’re gonna have to come in and earn it, and certainly that’s the case with all our prospects.”

Which Seattle Kraken prospects are on the way?

Beniers and Wright aren’t the only young players in the Kraken organization worth knowing. Francis shared his insight on the prospects who could play big roles in 2023-24 for Seattle.

“Certainly ‘Karts’ showed in the playoffs that he looks like he belongs, so unless something goes in a different direction between now and next season, I think he’s got a chance to to earn a spot,” Francis said of Kartye. “Ryker Evans, our second-ever pick for the Kraken organization, has been playing in Coachella all season long. Ryker made the All-Star Game in the middle of the season and then he made the All-Rookie team at the end of the season along with Karts. He’s continued to play extremely well here in the playoffs for them, so he may be ready coming out of (training) camp. It may take another month or two (after training camp), but I think at some point next season you’ll see Ryker Evans up here. (Another player) from our first draft, Ryan Winterton, now is done with his junior career so he can transition to Coachella if he doesn’t make our team.”

Francis also spotlighted Ville Ottavainen, a fourth-round pick in 2021, and Jacob Melanson, a fifth-rounder from the same year who had 50 goals and 99 points in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2022-23, as players to keep an eye on for debuts next season.

“Those guys are starting to get into the system now so hopefully their progress through the Kraken organization will be sooner rather than later, but there’s some good pieces certainly in the pipeline that are coming along.”

Listen to the full conversation with Francis in the podcast below.

Seattle Kraken coach Hakstol shares insight on Gourde, Burakovsky and Wright

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Kraken Takeaways: How is youth coming along? GM Ron Francis’ insight