Seattle Kraken Preview: The 5 biggest questions for this season

Oct 9, 2023, 9:12 AM | Updated: 10:55 am

Seattle Kraken...

André Burakovsky of the Seattle Kraken celebrates an OT goal against New Jersey on Jan. 19, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images )

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images )

The first Seattle Kraken season was simply about the excitement that came with NHL hockey finally arriving in the Emerald City.

The theme of the second season turned out to be exceeding expectations – because there really weren’t any after a disappointing expansion campaign.

Now comes season three, and the expectations this time are very real.

Seattle Kraken now face expectations in loaded division

Making the playoffs will do that, won’t it?

The Kraken didn’t just make the playoffs, of course. They made some noise when they got there, knocking off the defending champion Colorado Avalanche in seven games to win the first postseason series in franchise history, then taking the Dallas Stars to the brink in another Game 7 before coming up just a win short of a trip to the Western Conference finals.

So what now? Seattle will be aiming to take another step forward in 2023-24, with the season starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the road against the Vegas Golden Knights (full schedule here). And that’s a pretty good way to illustrate just what the Kraken are up against, because not only did Vegas win the Stanley Cup in June, but they’re one of two premier teams in Seattle’s own division that it will have to contend with.

To get ready for the Kraken season, here are the five biggest questions facing them in 2023-24.

Seattle Kraken Preview: Five questions

1. Can the Kraken vault into the same class as Vegas and Edmonton?

Let’s start off with the really important question. While the Kraken made the playoffs last season and there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the mix once again, they still play in a stacked Pacific Division. And atop that division are two of the NHL’s best teams: the defending champion Golden Knights, and the Edmonton Oilers, who finished just two points behind Vegas for the Pacific title and took VGK to six games in the second round of the playoffs.

NHL Pacific Division: Where do Seattle Kraken stand entering 2023-24 season?

The Kraken were still well out of reach of the top teams in the Pacific despite making the playoffs last season, and there are no obvious reasons to think that will be any different this year. Seattle didn’t have a splashy offseason, with their key additions being two players in their 30s (defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and forward Kailer Yamamoto, a Spokane native hoping to benefit from a change of scenery following four years in Edmonton. That means Seattle will be relying on many of the same heroes from last season – chiefly leading scorer Jared McCann and emerging star defenseman Vince Dunn – and their exceptional depth to repeat a second year in a row.

If there is to be improvement, there are two playmakers who could provide it, who we’ll get to next.

2. How will a full year of Burakovsky and Tolvanen play out?

While this offseason wasn’t newsworthy, the previous one for the Kraken was. The biggest reason for that was left wing André Burakovsky, who signed a five-year deal coming off winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado. Burakovsky was solid in his first season with Seattle – when he was healthy, that is. He missed almost the entire second half of the season and the entirety of the playoffs due to a torn groin muscle, but he’s back and could be a difference maker in his return.

Another player who Seattle hopes to have for a full season this year is right wing Eeli Tolvanen, a waiver claim steal last year from Nashville who added scoring punch in 48 regular season games and another 14 in the playoffs.

3. Will Matty Beniers approach star status?

Depth has become the name of the game for the Kraken, as opposing teams know now that there are no Seattle lines that will give them a break. The Kraken don’t have a true star, however – at least not yet. If anybody has a chance to fit that bill, it’s Matty Beniers, the 20-year-old center who won the 2022-23 Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.

Beniers had 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) and made the All-Star team, so it appears he’s already on his way. If the franchise’s first-ever draft pick can establish himself as even more of a play-making force this season, it could go a long way in narrowing the gap with the Golden Knights and Oilers.

4. Will Seattle’s goaltending be a strength or a weakness?

The Kraken were able to score last year, tying for fourth in the NHL with 289 goals. Their defense was stout, too, holding opponents to just 27 shots per game, which was second in the league. So why didn’t they finish higher in the standings? There’s really only one thing left to point to – goaltending. Despite the low number of chances allowed, Seattle allowed 252 goals, tied for 14th.

Philipp Grubauer was Seattle’s first big signing, coming to the Kraken ahead of the expansion season, but his tenure thus far has been up and down. He’s had his moments and especially came up big at times in the postseason, but there’s no telling if this year’s version of Grubauer will look more like the player who was between the pipes in the playoffs than the one who struggled with consistency in his first two regular seasons in Seattle.

The backup spot is a question mark, too. Martin Jones is gone to the Maple Leafs after being a key part of last year’s team, and Chris Driedger, who hasn’t seen ice in an NHL game since tearing his ACL in 2022, is off to begin the year at Coachella Valley in the AHL. That leaves it to the 27-year-old Joey Daccord, who had a big year with the Firebirds last season but has appeared in just 19 NHL games since making his league debut with Ottawa in 2018-19.

5. Will Shane Wright be a factor at all?

From one first-round pick to another. Wright had an interesting first year in the Kraken organization. He appeared in eight games for Seattle and even scored a goal against Montreal, the team that famously snubbed him with the top overall pick in 2022, but he otherwise shuttled between Canada’s World Juniors squad, Coachella Valley in the AHL, and finally the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.

The comments about Wright from Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Francis were a bit eye-opening early in the offseason. For example, when Francis was asked about Wright by Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk in June, he responded, “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.”

Wright, 19, has been re-assigned to Coachella Valley to begin this year, and there’s a possibility he could stay there all season. Any player on the Firebirds roster is just a call away from Seattle, though, so Wright’s status will be a storyline throughout 2023-24.

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