While the Seattle Kraken made some strong additions to their forward group this offseason, they only added a couple of pieces to their defensive corps. While their offensive struggles could not be overstated, their defensive play was among the worst in the NHL and an area where they desperately needed to triage going into 2022-23. To be completely fair, their goaltending was inadequate for most of last season, but a lot of that blame should fall on the defense.
The Kraken were 24th in the NHL with 284 goals against, and held the same position in terms of goals-against per game, allowing 3.46. While this next stat doesn’t fully fall on the defense, their 1,031 blocks were 23rd, and blocks per 60-minutes also 23rd with just 12.50. It’s an area where they could look to improve upon as well.
One piece they added this offseason was two-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Schultz. While his offensive production hasn’t eclipsed 27 points since a 51-point 2016-17 season, his offensive ability should take a lot of pressure off Vince Dunn. Dunn is heading into a contract year and really needs to find a way to produce as a No.1 defenseman should. He’s not going to become a Cale Makar or an Adam Fox, but he needs to drive the team’s offense, and he’s running out of time to do so.
They also added Michal Kempny, another Stanley Cup champion. He is more defense-oriented and should bring some stability to the Kraken blue line, as their bottom pair seemed like a revolving door last season. Whether he ends up starting the season in the lineup or as the seventh man, he could be a good option for head coach Dave Hakstol to turn to if the defense gets off to a rough start.
In this article, I’m going to take a shot at projecting the Kraken’s defensive pairs for opening night. There’s always the variable of a rookie making the team out of training camp. While he will get every opportunity to make the team, I think Ryker Evans would likely be more of a mid-season call-up rather than winning a spot on the opening night roster. That said, let’s plot this out.
Opening Night Defensive Corps Projection
|Vince Dunn||Adam Larsson|
|Jamie Oleksiak||Justin Schultz|
|Michal Kempny||Carson Soucy|
Breaking Down Seattle Kraken Defensive Corps Projection
The team’s top pair makes sense for a couple of reasons. Adam Larsson had a strong 2021-22 season despite the team’s struggles and is one of their leaders on the blue line. He is dependable defensively and some even believe he could become the team’s captain. Meanwhile, Dunn absolutely needs to have a great season since he’s heading into a contract year. He needs to take chances and capitalize on them to prove that he can be an offense-driving defenseman. Larsson is the perfect partner to allow that to happen and is the perfect partner to clean up any messes that may occur.
The second pair will feature one of the Kraken’s newest additions in Schultz. Similar to the first pair, Oleksiak is definitely more of a stay-at-home defenseman whereas Schultz has more offensive ability. Schultz averaged a career-low 16:55 time-on-ice (TOI) for the Washington Capitals last season, and a bump to top-four minutes with some power-play time could lead to a productive season. Oleksiak was second on the team in hits, staying true to his nature, and led the team in wins above replacement (WAR) last season. If he can emulate that type of success, Schultz could flourish alongside him.
I’ll start the third pair with Carson Soucy, who led all Kraken defensemen with a career-high 10 goals last season. He can play the right or left side, and either way he was getting into my lineup projection. That sixth defenseman slot is where I had some difficulty. Will Borgen earned some praise for defying expectations, but I could see Hakstol leaning toward the established veteran in Kempny. If Soucy hopes to emulate his 21-point performance, also a career-high, then having another more stay-at-home defender would benefit him. It doesn’t hurt that they open the season on the road with two games against divisional rivals. If it goes poorly, Hakstol can make necessary adjustments to the lineup before heading home to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in their home opener.
THW’s Adam Kierszenblat’s Take
“The Kraken are starting to build a good NHL defense. The key to this group is Schultz. The idea is that Dunn will run the first unit power play, but if he struggles again, the long-time right-shot defender could step into that role. The battle for the third pair will also be one to watch. Will Kempny step up or will it be Borgen’s time to shine? The group played well last season but needs to once again take a step forward if they want to push for a playoff spot.”
The Kraken have some storylines on their backend that will make this season interesting. Aside from seeing how their additions will pay off, they have several players who are in contract years. I’ve already discussed Dunn and how important this season is for his career. However, Soucy is looking at unrestricted free agency, while Borgen will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Considering last season’s trade deadline, it’ll be interesting to see if general manager Ron Francis has some cards up his sleeve that he’ll be playing as the season wears on.
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.