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Fantasy hockey: What to expect from the Seattle Kraken

Out of the depths of the Pacific Northwest, a new NHL power will rise. Its tentacles will reach into fantasy hockey leagues, providing more players, more counting stats and, thus, more options for fantasy managers.

But how should we handle the impact of a brand-new NHL team?

Luckily, we have a recent example to draw on. So let’s have a look at the Seattle Kraken‘s roster, how the Vegas Golden Knights did in their first season and how we can apply that to the Kraken for the 2021-22 campaign.


Release the Kraken

Yanni Gourde is out until likely November. That is the most relevant piece of information when it comes to penciling in this depth chart. Gourde is the team’s first- or second-line center when he returns, so that will change the makeup of the team after a month. As it stands for October, Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle are the clear-cut best wingers on the team, with Alex Wennberg the top center without Gourde.

Marcus Johansson, Joonas Donskoi, Calle Jarnkrok and Jared McCann have varying amounts of top-six experience, in that order. While Mason Appleton and Nathan Bastian have been projected as having that potential but not yet having a chance to realize it. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a thin forward group. In the past six years, Jaden Schwartz is the only forward to crest 1.9 fantasy points per game (FPPG) in a season, which is about what a skater needs to be in the top 100 fantasy players. And Schwartz only did it once and it was four seasons ago.

Defense is a little deeper. Mark Giordano regularly tops 2.00 FPPG, having done so in each of the past six seasons. Adam Larsson gets close to that mark in a good year thanks to his prolific shot-blocking ability. Vince Dunn projects as a potential top-pairing defender and power-play quarterback, though has yet to have such an opportunity. While Jamie Oleksiak showed well in his first season, topping 17 minutes per game last year.

As for goaltending, the Kraken are set. Philipp Grubauer emerged as a legitimate No. 1 starter in his time with the Colorado Avalanche, while Chris Driedger showed the Florida Panthers that their defense wasn’t the cause of Sergei Bobrovsky‘s horrible ratios. Grubauer was fourth among goaltenders last season in fantasy points per 60 minutes (FPP60), while Driedger finished seventh.

How fared thy Knights

In the two years prior to the Golden Knights’ debut season, not a single skater from the roster cracked 1.90 fantasy points per game. In fact, few came anywhere close to that mark.

In the 2016-17 season, Jonathan Marchessault managed 1.71 FPPG, and in the season prior, James Neal posted 1.82 FPPG. But that’s as close as any of the debut-season Knights came to that mark leading up to the 2017-18 season.

Of course, a new team with new roles available meant opportunities would abound.

William Karlsson went from 0.84 and 0.71 FPPG in the two seasons before 2017-18 to putting up 43 goals and 2.16 FPPG — which ranked him third and 44th in the league, respectively.

The line with Karlsson, Marchessault and Reilly Smith helped all three, as Marchessault posted 2.07 FPPG and Smith had 1.82.

Erik Haula, David Perron and Neal formed a line that looked like the top line on paper but was overtaken by the Karlsson trio. Still, Haula posted a fantasy-friendly 1.85 FPPG, while Perron was also useful at 1.79. Neal was still roster-worthy in many leagues but disappointed with 1.59 FPPG.

Brayden McNabb was a physical presence on the point, riding hits and blocked shots to 1.83 FPPG, which ranked him inside the top 40 among defensemen.

While Shea Theodore and Colin Miller flirted with fantasy relevance thanks to power-play time, neither was an everyday play, as they posted 1.54 and 1.50 FPPG, respectively.

In net, a 32-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury was coming off a weak season with the Penguins in which Matt Murray stole his thunder in the postseason and backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup (for the second season in a row). Fleury had posted elite fantasy numbers in 2015-16 (3.53 FPP60) but had faltered in 2016-17 (2.34 FPP60).

He rode the grinding, physical game from the Golden Knights’ defense to one of the best seasons of his career in 2017-18. Fleury posted 4.20 FPP60, which was second among all goaltenders with at least half their teams’ starts, and finished ninth among all goalies for fantasy points.

Putting it all together

So what might we get fantasy-wise from the Kraken in their debut campaign?

The biggest lesson to take away from the Golden Knights is that there will be players who step up and find they can do a lot more on offense with more opportunity.

Wennberg, Jarnkrok and Dunn — as well as Gourde when he’s healthy — stand out as having perhaps the biggest chances.

Wennberg, who will be 27 when the season starts, was tossed into a No. 1 center role as a 22-year-old in 2016-17. He showed well enough, posting 1.60 FPPG and seemed to be an up-and-coming fantasy play. But Pierre-Luc Dubois showed up the next year and Wennberg was slowly pushed from a scoring role. He hasn’t done too much in the seasons since, finding himself outside looking in at scoring lines and power-play duty. But a chance to start the season as the team’s No. 1 center could rejuvenate his play.

Jarnkrok had a history as a scorer while developing in Sweden and showed it during his brief AHL tenure. Unfortunately, he has also suffered from a lack of top-six opportunity in the NHL — with less than 17 minutes average ice time and minimal power-play looks in his seven years. He also has the flexibility to play center should the Kraken decide to use him while awaiting Gourde’s return.

On the defense, Giordano is the only one with experience as a power-play quarterback, but he has lots of wear on the tires. Even last season, as a 37-year-old, the Calgary Flames tried to transition him off the top power-play unit. While he’s a great veteran presence and natural choice for captain, Dunn seems like the choice to be the puck mover on the point.

Dunn will turn 25 this year, but he also has four years of experience under his belt. He got some secondary power-play time from the St. Louis Blues but was always blocked by better choices for the team. He has shown natural scoring ability. He is tied for 27th among all defensemen for goals during the past four years (32) and is one of only two defensemen in the top 50 for that list who averaged less than 20 minutes per game (17:23; the other is Mikhail Sergachev).

But just getting more ice time can be a boon to any player. Schwartz and Eberle both played fewer than 18 minutes per game last season but could reasonably be expected to get closer to 20 thanks to time on the team’s top power-play unit. If you take their fantasy points per minute from last season and give them a couple of more minutes per game, they both project to push into the top 100 fantasy players.

As for the crease, the weaker offense and strong defense should combine to make the Kraken put a focus on keeping the puck out. That should make the job easier for both Grubauer and Driedger. Both averaged better than 4.00 FPP60 last season, but that could be a tall order with a new franchise. If we reduce that to somewhere in the 3.65-to-3.75 FPP60 range, they would still be fantasy plays with a 60-40 timeshare.

Projections

As it stands, ESPN.com has 10 Kraken players in its top 300 rankings and I have 11 in my own rankings.

Player, Position: ESPN rank, my rank

Philipp Grubauer, G: 15 (ESPN), 16 (me)

Jaden Schwartz, LW: 230 (ESPN), 57 (me)

Vince Dunn, D: 199 ESPN, 60 (me)

Jordan Eberle, RW: 232 ESPN, 97 (me)

Adam Larsson, D: not ranked (ESPN), 123 (me)

Alex Wennberg, C: not ranked (ESPN), 135 (me)

Chris Driedger, G: 161 ESPN, 139 (me)

Calle Jarnkrok, C: not ranked (ESPN), 198 (me)

Brandon Tanev, LW: 177 (ESPN), 218 (me)

Yanni Gourde, LW: 196 (ESPN), 250 (me)

Jared McCann, LW: 254 (ESPN), 252 (me)

Mark Giordano, D: 64 (ESPN), not ranked (me)

As you can see, I differ in a few spots from the default ESPN projections. Like I said, I like Schwartz and Eberle to shine with additional ice time. I think the rest of the forward group should be serviceable, but I do see sleeper value in Wennberg, Jarnkrok and Gourde (consider them the William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith equivalents). I’m all-in on Dunn, and I think it’s to the detriment of the 38-year-old Giordano. The list of defensemen in NHL history who have managed to top 40 points at age 38 or older is a short and imposing one: Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Al MacInnis, Paul Coffey, Tim Horton and Larry Murphy.

Of those not listed here, Colin Blackwell has my eye. His FPP60 from the past couple of seasons are in the fantasy-relevant range, so if he snuck into a big role, he could potentially do something with it. Joonas Donskoi is of a similar muted potential. With a top-six role and power-play minutes, he could easily be worthy of a roster.

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