Seattle Kraken Breakdown: Forslund’s keys to take next step
Oct 10, 2023, 12:17 PM | Updated: 12:18 pm
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Seattle Kraken begin their third season on NHL ice on Tuesday night, and if there’s one thing fans may notice when the Kraken meet the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights, it’s how familiar their lineup looks.
Coming off the first playoff appearance in franchise history, Seattle had a pretty quiet offseason, so the team will be looking for a lot of in-house improvement during the 2023-24 campaign.
“There’s not a lot of changes,” said John Forslund, the voice of the Kraken on ROOT Sports and a longtime play-by-play announcer in the NHL, on Tuesday morning when he joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “The lines are basically the same as how we left off in (the playoffs last season against) Dallas, the D pairings are basically the same. There’s a few tweaks within the lineup but nothing drastic. I don’t know that they needed to do any of that. I think they just need to come back and recognize their identity and get after it.”
So what will need to happen for the Kraken to build off of last year’s 100-point season in the standings, which was enough to finish fourth in the Pacific Division and take the first of two wild cards from the Western Conference to the playoffs? Here’s a look at a few things Forslund said will be key this season.
Keys for Seattle Kraken in 2023-24
The man in goal
When co-host Mike Salk asked about the Kraken’s expectations coming off their quiet offseason, Forslund first turned to goaltending. Seattle’s starter between the pipes, Philipp Grubauer, was the team’s first big signing prior to their expansion season, but it’s been up and down for him in Seattle. The good news is it was mostly up from the second half of last season on.
“The first area that has to pick up where it left off is Philipp Grubauer in goal,” Forslund said. “He has to be the goalie that we saw in the second half of the season. He’s going to have to carry over his playoff performances, which were brilliant. He has the ability to put a team on his shoulders. He’s got to find a level of consistency. I think he fought through an awful lot of maybe self-induced pressure. I think we’ve talked about it in terms of his first year as a Kraken, and then he had an injury at the front end of last year. But if they’re gonna grind through games and be defensive, you better have good goaltending, so he’s a big key.”
Who will lead the playmaking?
The Kraken were one of the better scoring teams in the league last season. Will that continue? If so, there are three names to keep in mind.
“You’re looking at a second season for Matty Beniers – you know he was rookie of the year. (Can he) continue with the same production if not better, and continue to mature as a player and get better in a lot of different intangible areas? And then they didn’t have André Burakovsky, who was leading the team in scoring the first week of February out of the All-Star break when he got hurt, so a full season of him with that kind of production will help. And then other players just matching what they do – you know, Jared McCann scored 40 goals. That’s going to be hard for him to get there again, but he did have 27 in his first season as a Kraken and that lead the team, so you put him in for 30 at least and go from there. So they’re just gonna have to come back with the same approach.”
Is there enough protection?
A point of emphasis from Salk’s questions centered around protection for Beniers, the Kraken’s first-ever draft pick and the face of the franchise. He still won’t turn 21 years old until next month, and with his 6-foot-2 frame listed at 178 pounds, he has become a bit of a target for opponents. That took a particularly ugly turn in January when Beniers missed a handful of games after taking a nasty hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers.
Myers seemed to get a receipt for that hit in a preseason game last Wednesday as winger John Hayden sent a few punches his way, but Hayden will begin the season with the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds.
“If it becomes an issue, it might have to be addressed,” Forslund said about protection for Beniers. “I’m with you on that, Mike, I think that’s a fair point. And we’ve talked about it and Hayden is still in the organization, he could get called up. They do have a roster spot available. (Kraken general manager) Ron Francis left it at 22 (players on the roster) – 23 is the maximum. There’s (salary) cap room if they want to add a player later in the season. So they’re positioned well to tweak the lineup.
“In terms of how you tweak it in the second half of the season, hopefully the Kraken are in a really good spot and you’re getting that player to put you over the top to win the championship. That would be good. Or if you get into a situation where that is an issue where teams are taking liberties and running at Beniers and you’re looking at your team toughness and it has to be addressed, I think it could help.”
Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Kraken broadcaster John Forslund at this link or in the audio player near the top of this post.