One draft is done, and a more traditional one is upcoming Friday for a Kraken team insisting the NHL players it has already taken won’t impact those amateur ones still to be selected.
With 30 NHL players chosen Wednesday by the Kraken in the expansion draft, the upcoming entry draft of amateur prospects sees general manager Ron Francis and his crew picking No. 2 overall in Friday’s 5 p.m. opening round and third in each of the next six rounds starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. Kraken amateur scouting director Robert Kron said the influx of defensive-oriented players chosen from NHL teams in the expansion draft has little bearing on amateur prospects the club will target.
“I don’t think it affects us at all going into the amateur draft,’’ Kron said. “I don’t think it makes any difference as to what we’re going to do.’’
Most draft pundits feel the Kraken’s first-round decision effectively comes down to two players — consensus No. 1 overall pick Owen Power, a defenseman from the University of Michigan, and his teammate, center Matthew Beniers.
Assuming the Buffalo Sabres grab Power at No. 1, that appears to leave the Kraken with two-way centerman Beniers, 18. He’s a player cut largely from the same cloth as Francis, who performed at both ends of the ice offensively and defensively during his Hall of Fame NHL career.
“I think it would be a lot of fun to play for a new organization and a new team,’’ Beniers told reporters last month in a conference call with draft prospects arranged by the league. “I think that would be really cool especially because I’m sure the city’s probably real excited to have a hockey team.’’
Beniers said he’s “pretty close’’ to being ready for the NHL, having played for Team USA at the recent IIHF World Championships against professional players.
Considering the dearth of top-flight centers in the expansion draft, the Kraken could help itself grabbing one who projects to be in the NHL within a year or two. And if the Sabres confound the experts and go with Beniers, then Power falls to Francis, who has said he’ll take the best guy available.
Then again, the Kraken confounded prognosticators in Wednesday’s expansion draft, bypassing several players deemed more likely to be picked than those Francis and his analytics-assisted staffers chose.
Not everyone agrees Beniers is as much a lock at No. 2 as Power seems at No. 1. Some feel a third Michigan player, center Kent Johnson, 18, has a higher talent ceiling, though the incoming college sophomore might not be as NHL-ready and projects more as a future winger.
Johnson told reporters last month that while he’s expected to play another season at Michigan, he feels “confident’’ his NHL arrival can happen sooner.
Another X-factor in the Kraken’s decision is the lack of playing time for several projected top-10 prospects, some of whom battled injury while others were limited by COVID-19 restrictions on schedules.
For instance, the Kraken had interest in Chaz Lucius, 18, the U.S. National Development Team forward who underwent arthroscopic surgery for a bone lesion on his left knee last year and only returned for 13 games this season. He did score 13 goals and added seven assists, enough to keep him No. 12 on NHL Central Scouting’s final draft rankings — but not the top five where the Kraken’s brass already knew they’d be picking from depending on June’s draft lottery results.
Then, there’s the pandemic-fueled cancellation of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) schedule, forcing forward Brandt Clarke, 18, to play overseas with a Slovakian pro team. Clarke played well in limited action there against more physically developed adult players, but gauging that compared to the busier OHL schedule has increased debate about where in the top 10 he belongs.
“The lack of playing time was the same for everyone,’’ Kron said. “It’s not ideal. Ideally, you would like to see more. But it is what it is. We have what we have. We utilized our video quite a bit and I think we got enough information to make a good decision, and we feel good about it.
“Once we knew where we were going to be picking, that really kind of accelerated our approach to things and solidified who we were going to be taking.’’
Towering Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson, 18, was another potential top-five prospect that bounced between junior and pro leagues in his native country after COVID-19 scheduling cancellations. Edvinsson feels the pro time caused him to not miss a beat.
Unlike Lucius, Edvinsson made it to the IIHF World Under-18 championships in Texas this spring, giving Francis and Kraken scouts opportunity to gauge him firsthand playing for bronze-medalist Team Sweden.
The Kraken has a Swedish-bent to its overseas scouting staff, with former Philadelphia Flyers stalwart Pelle Eklund and countryman Marcus Fingal based there. Also, Sasu Hovi hails from adjacent Finland, so he’s intricately familiar with Scandinavian hockey.
U.S. development team defenseman Luke Hughes, 18, is another outside Kraken possibility. The younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and defenseman Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks also missed time last season due to March surgery on a lacerated foot tendon cut by a skate blade. The injury caused him to tumble from a top-two spot on several draft boards.
“I feel really good, I’m almost 100% — just trying to get my timing and stuff back,’’ Hughes said of where his recovery progress had reached as of a month ago.
The Devils pick fourth overall, and there’s a strong chance Hughes could be reunited with his brother Jack.
Kron said the Kraken still had about five players it was making final calls on entering this week.
“It’s more like a review,’’ he said. “We had a final Zoom meeting last week, and then this week the (scouting) guys are in town and it’s the first time they’re seeing one another or meeting an actual person, so it’s more of that. And then, it’s double checking: Are we sure? But it’s late in the game, so the body of work is in.’’
Not just for Friday’s opening round, but more the next six to come — where the selection will be far more wide open. Either way, come Saturday afternoon, the present and future of the Kraken will have vastly taken shape.