Analyzing Seattle's expansion draft: Are the Kraken a playoff team?

Justin Bourne joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Seattle Kraken's expansion draft picks and some players he thought should have been taken.

The Kraken has been released.

The NHL’s newest team has players as the Seattle Kraken unveiled their roster Wednesday night. The roster as it stands is the first iteration of what it will ultimately look like on opening night. The draft, trades, and free-agent signings will help shape this team into a final version that will take the ice next season.

What is clear is the Kraken placed a great deal of value on flexibility. Seattle left itself plenty of salary cap space to go after pending free agents like Gabriel Landeskog, Phillip Danault, and Dougie Hamilton. While the Kraken lack star power today, it may not be the case when the puck drops in October.

According to our point projection model, the current Kraken roster projects to be an 86-point team next season, which isn’t a bad start -- assuming Wednesday’s selections were just that, a start. The Kraken drafted goalies who have shown various degrees of promise, but none with an established track record of success in the NHL. Seattle accumulated an impressive group of defencemen, some of whom will likely be used as trade chips to acquire other assets. And at forward, the Kraken took a conservative approach, avoiding several high-profile players with big contracts.

With all of this in mind, let’s evaluate the Kraken expansion draft by taking a closer look at who they picked, who they didn’t and what areas they need to address.

The Kraken currently have a cap hit of just over $52.5 million, via CapFriendly, which gives them nearly $30 million of projected cap space to work with. Seattle has seven restricted and two unrestricted free agents to either sign, trade their rights or let walk when free agency opens July 28. The biggest cap hit on the Kraken roster is Mark Giordano who has one year left on his contract at $6.75 million. Giordano headlines a defence corps that is easily the strength of the team.

At 37 years old, Giordano showed he still has plenty left to give after scoring 26 points in 56 games last season. The former Flames captain can still eat big minutes in all situations and should be a calming influence on the Kraken blue line. Last season, Giordano ranked ninth among qualified defencemen in turnover rate, which measures how often a player turns the puck over relative to his total puck possessions. In the defensive zone, Giordano had the third-lowest turnover rate. New teammate Vince Dunn ranked second.

Giordano can be counted on to make the right play at the right time. In addition to being responsible with the puck, Giordano also makes an excellent first pass out of the defensive zone. He ranked sixth in outlet pass completions per game (11.5) and outlet pass completion success rate (78.1 per cent). Giordano also completed an average of 2.4 stretch passes per game, connecting on 80 per cent of his attempts which was second only to Neal Pionk.

Defensively, Giordano will help the Kraken in several areas, specifically slowing opposing teams down off the rush. At even strength, Giordano denied 52 per cent of all zone entries he faced, which ranked 16th among defencemen.

The Kraken’s defence-first approach was evident in signing pending unrestricted free agents Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak. Larsson is a physical defender, ranking fifth in hits and second in blocked shots among defencemen last season. The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Oleksiak ranked seventh in hits and uses his large frame to push opponents off the puck, ranking fifth in puck battle wins per game.

In addition to being a physical force, Oleksiak skates well for a player his size and won’t be shy to join the rush with his new team. Add Carson Soucy, Kurtis MacDermid, and Jeremey Lauzon to the mix and it’s clear the Kraken wanted to form a defence corps that is physically imposing and will be tough to play against. Mission accomplished.

In goal, Seattle is betting Chris Driedger is the real deal. The 27-year-old has just 38 games of NHL experience, but 23 of those games came this past season with the Florida Panthers and he was easily Florida’s best goalie. Driedger finished the regular season fifth in save percentage at .927 and ranked 11th in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes at 0.19. Both were best among goalies made available to the Kraken.

Seattle also selected Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals. The 25-year-old finished last season with a .908 save percentage in 37 games, which ranked 28th overall. Vanecek finished the season with a 2.69 goals-against average while the Capitals allowed an average of 2.37 expected goals against in the games he played. What that means is Vanecek allowed more goals than expected based on the quality and quantity of shots he faced. The Kraken will hope he can take the next step and challenge Driedger for the starting role. Seattle also drafted Joey Daccord from the Ottawa Senators, likely the team's third goalie.

The forward position is likely where Seattle will look to make some big moves before opening night. As mentioned, the Kraken passed on some big-name, top-six forwards in favour of a group mainly comprised of depth forwards and prospects. That’s not to say there isn’t talent capable of taking on more responsibility with the Kraken.

Yanni Gourde, a third-line centre in Tampa Bay, will step into a top-six role and he is the most likely candidate to excel in a larger role. Gourde is a tenacious player who gets to loose pucks and pushes opponents off the puck at a high rate. He can generate shots and get pucks to teammates in the slot, where 75 per cent of all goals are scored. If Kraken fans are wondering who their most likely candidate is to breakout like William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault did in Vegas -- Gourde is the guy.

Jordan Eberle is currently the Kraken’s highest-paid forward, with a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. In four years with the New York Islanders, Eberle averaged 0.62 points per game, which ranks 113th among all forwards with at least 200 games played in that time. It also happens to be the same points per game total as his new teammate in Gourde. Barring any major additions at right wing, Eberle will slot in as the Kraken’s top line right winger and will be counted on to provide offence on the power play. With nearly 800 games under his belt, Eberle is still a productive offensive player and solid puck-moving forward, raking in the 87th percentile last season in controlled zone entries and exits. The only forward on the Kraken roster who ranked higher was Joonas Donskoi, who ranked in the 93rd percentile.

Donskoi scored a career-high 17 goals in 51 games with the Colorado Avalanche while finishing the season with a well above average shooting percentage of 19.8. While repeating a shooting percentage of nearly 20 per cent may be unrealistic, there is evidence to suggest Donskoi can sustain an above-average shooting percentage. Just over 71 per cent of Donskoi’s shot attempts last season came from the slot. Only 13 players had a higher percentage of their shots from this scoring area. The better the shot quality, the more likely a player will be to post an above average shooting percentage (see Mark Scheifele). If Donskoi can continue to generate a majority of his shots from prime scoring areas, he should be able to build on his career-high goal total from last season.

Jared McCann, Morgan Geekie, Calle Jarnkrok, and Brandon Tanev are also dependable forwards who performed well in depth roles with their former teams. As mentioned, the Kraken have cap space to work with and should they choose to add some more offensive firepower by signing unrestricted free agents, they should have a competitive team next season.

General Manager Ron Francis made a point to keep costs down in the expansion draft and build from the net out. Driedger and Vanecek have shown, albeit in small samples, potential to be an effective platoon in net for Seattle. The Kraken boast an impressive group of defencemen which will be a pain in the butt to play against. Seattle drafted forwards who will also make it difficult to generate offence against. There is a need for proven goal scoring but, again there is plenty of time to address it in the coming weeks.

What is certain is there will be plenty of movement to come, starting at 1 pm ET today as the roster freeze lifts across the NHL and any side deals Seattle made are expected to be announced. Regardless, in a weak Pacific Division, there is reason to believe the Kraken will compete for a playoff spot in their inaugural season.

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