Special to Yahoo Sports
On July 21, the Seattle Kraken began to look a lot more like a hockey team as they filled out a roster in their expansion draft. Now that the dust has settled, let's take a Krak at predicting what Seattle's forward lines and defense pairings will look like on Opening Night.
Projected Forward Lines
Jaden Schwartz — Alexander Wennberg — Jordan Eberle
Marcus Johansson — Jared McCann — Joonas Donskoi
Brandon Tanev — Calle Jarnkrok — Mason Appleton
Colin Blackwell — Morgan Geekie — Nathan Bastian
Injured: Yanni Gourde (shoulder surgery)
The first thing that stands out about the Kraken's forwards is a lack of center depth. Wennberg is a perfectly fine top-six center with 40-point potential, but he was able to see second-line usage behind Aleksander Barkov last season. Likewise, McCann (32 points in 43 contests) was solid as a fill-in for Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins' second line, but he's probably a little miscast if that ends up being his full-time role. At 25 years old, McCann carries a bit more upside than Wennberg, who will be 27 once the season starts.
Down the lineup, Jarnkrok was a reliable middle-six option for the Predators, although he played much of the last few seasons as a winger. He plays in all situations and he'll usually chip in roughly 30 points in a full campaign. Geekie established himself as an NHL player last year on a deep Hurricanes team, and he can fill a fourth-line role fairly well.
Johansson has played center at times in his career, but he's better suited to a wing role, while Blackwell and Appleton figure to be interchangeable between center and wing based on need.
There should be no doubt as to the top-line wingers in Seattle. Eberle filled a similar role with the Islanders by skating on Mathew Barzal's right flank, while Schwartz was a long-time top-six fixture with the Blues before inking a five-year deal with the Kraken in free agency. Schwartz carries some injury risk, but he's also got a pedigree as a 50-point player in three of the last five seasons.
As with the Golden Knights in 2017, there was no lack of middle-six talent for the Kraken to acquire as many teams protected their clear top-line forwards. This could lead to some mixing and matching among the lines. Based on reputation, Johansson and Donskoi are best suited to a second-line role, as they're more effective on a scoring line than a checking unit. Johansson recorded only six goals and eight assists with a minus-10 rating last season in a middle-six role with the Wild — it's safe to question if a change of scenery will be enough to get the 30-year-old back on track; he's struggled since being traded by the Capitals in 2017. Donskoi, meanwhile, has landed between 31 and 37 points in five of his six NHL campaigns. He has a good chance of logging power-play time as well.
One point of curiosity is Tanev, who mainly played a third-line role with the Penguins last year. A bruising winger, he's also shown a touch of scoring potential after registering 16 points in 32 contests last year. He also played with McCann at times in Pittsburgh — head coach Dave Hakstol may opt to reunite the pair on either the second or third line. Appleton can also play with a bit of an edge, although the 25-year-old may still be able to improve on his scoring pace after netting 12 goals and 25 points in 56 contests in 2020-21.
While not particularly fantasy-relevant, Blackwell and Bastian could fill out the bottom six in fourth-line roles. The 28-year-old Blackwell had 22 points in 47 games last season, while the 23-year-old Bastian recorded 10 points in 41 outings. Of the two, Bastian is more likely to play his way up the lineup, but it's tough to imagine him earning a top-six role without an injury to Eberle or Donskoi.
Gourde is expected to miss about six weeks to open the season. Once he returns, the Quebec native could fill in just about anywhere in the top nine. He's versatile enough to play center or wing and talented enough to rack up between 40 and 50 points even if he misses upwards of 15 to 20 games.
Without much prospect depth yet, expect forwards like Carsen Twarynski, Alex True, and Kole Lind to begin the year with AHL Charlotte or as rotational bottom-six options. Second-overall draft pick Matt Beniers is likely to play a full season with the University of Michigan before potentially making the NHL jump in the spring.
Projected Defensemen Pairings
Mark Giordano — Jamie Oleksiak
Vince Dunn — Adam Larsson
Jeremy Lauzon — Carson Soucy
One thing is abundantly clear among the Kraken blueliners — this group has no trouble blocking shots. Larsson (128) and Giordano (110) both ranked in the top-10 league-wide for blocks last season. They're also aggressive — Larsson (166) and Oleksiak (148) were top-15 in the NHL for hits last year. Along with the more offensive-minded Dunn, the Kraken have a formidable defense. For scoring potential, the 37-year-old Giordano and 24-year-old Dunn are most likely to contribute.
The bottom defense pairing will likely come down to training camp to figure out. In addition to Lauzon and Soucy, left-handed blueliners Haydn Fleury and Dennis Cholowski as well as righties Connor Carrick and Will Borgen all have some NHL experience. Fleury saw some top-four usage after he was traded from the Hurricanes to the Ducks in April, while Soucy (31 points in last 105 games) likely has the most established ability as an NHL defender. Cholowski and Carrick seem most like rotational options. Lauzon is interesting — a second-round pick from 2015, he's picked up just 11 points in 76 career contests. At 24-years-old, he has some of the most room to grow, but he'd likely need to switch to the right side from his natural left-shot role to see a larger role.
To complement a strong defense corps, the Kraken signed Grubauer, a 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist, to a six-year deal. He played behind a smothering Avalanche defense last season, but there shouldn't be too much drop-off now that he's with a team built from the back out. He carries some injury risk, but he also hasn't posted a save percentage under .916 in the last six years despite a general trend toward more offense league-wide.
Driedger was good enough as a backup to Sergei Bobrovsky that he nearly stole the starting role last season. Should the 29-year-old Grubauer slump or get hurt, Driedger is more than capable of filling in for an extended time. A forgiving Pacific Division outside of the Golden Knights, Oilers, and maybe Canucks should also give both goalies a bit of leeway when it comes to their most frequent opponents. Grubauer should have universal fantasy appeal as a top-10 option at the position, while Driedger will be viable in deeper redraft formats.
Projected Power Play
Schwartz — Eberle — Donskoi
Jarnkrok — McCann — Appleton
The Kraken don't have a true net-front presence among the forwards in their first unit. Schwartz and Donskoi are likely to man the wings, while Wennberg or Eberle could rotate in and around the high slot and net-front areas. Giordano has long been a power-play quarterback for the Flames, a role he should continue in with Seattle. Gourde would likely bump Wennberg off the top unit when the former returns.
While Tanev is more of a penalty killer, he has the greasy style that would work well in a net-front role on the second unit, although he has little power-play experience. McCann, Jarnkrok, and Appleton all saw man-advantage duties at times with their previous teams, while Dunn was a regular part of the Blues' power play, logging 1:42 per game on the man advantage last year. If the chemistry isn't there right away, players like Bastian, Oleksiak, or Soucy could be rotated into the power-play mix.