Once the Rangers left him available, it was near certain Colin Blackwell would become an inaugural member of the Kraken.
Blackwell, who broke out in 2020-21, was a surprise snub from the New York Rangers’ protected roster. Once general manager Chris Drury settled on keeping Kevin Rooney off the board, there was a choice between Blackwell and Julien Gauthier. The Rangers chose Blackwell to be unprotected.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis then had an opening to take one of the more under-the-radar steals available during the NHL expansion draft.
“Their loss is Seattle’s gain,” Blackwell said during his introductory news conference late last month. “It’s not only a great opportunity on the ice, but a great opportunity off to be a part of something special. … It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of history, a team’s first game ever.”
The right-handed forward notched career highs with 12 goals and 22 points in 47 games last season. In the Rangers’ carousel of forwards, he seized a consistent spot in the lineup.
In May, Blackwell represented Team USA at the IIHF Men’s World Championships in Latvia, where he scored four goals in 10 games. There, he played alongside Matty Beniers, who later became the Kraken’s top selection in the NHL entry draft.
More relevant in that tournament, though, was Blackwell’s ability to switch back to center after playing an entire NHL season on the wing. With the Kraken, Blackwell likely will stay at left wing, but that versatility is a reason he became a valuable option.
“We haven’t quite talked about it yet, but I’m up for everything,” Blackwell said. “I’ve taken faceoffs, I’ve always taken pride in that. … Whatever the coaching staff sees for me, I’ve been lucky enough to have an opportunity to play up and down the lineup in many different situations.
“I’ll take whatever role is given to me.”
Though Blackwell was a pleasant surprise for the Rangers a year ago, the Kraken might be relying on the 2011 seventh-rounder. Without Yanni Gourde to begin the season because of shoulder surgery, and a lack of forward depth, the Kraken will have a need for forwards with NHL experience.
Blackwell is one of those guys who might need to rise to the occasion.
Before signing with the Rangers, Blackwell had three goals and seven assists in 33 contests with Nashville. So it was fair he flew under the radar.
It also would be fair to be skeptical of his career highs translating to Seattle after he spent the bulk of last season playing with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Thus far, the Kraken doesn’t have the same type of forward depth, and certainly no one like Panarin.
Instead, Blackwell could end up in an energy-line type of role alongside veteran wing Marcus Johansson and possibly young center Nathan Bastian. Or, perhaps while Gourde is out, Blackwell could project to play in the top six because he has experience there. That would depend if the Kraken goes for it with Mason Appleton at center or the more experienced Jared McCann, and if Joonas Donskoi projects better with one of them as his centerman instead of Calle Jarnkrok.
Blackwell’s 46.6 expected goals for percentage was ninth among Rangers forwards. Among forwards who are now with the Kraken, that number ranks eighth. He also worked evenly in the offensive and defensive zone, taking 83 offensive-zone starts and 81 in the defensive end, so he adds some versatility, something the Kraken might seek in their top six.
“Last year was awesome for me, finally getting the opportunity to play,” Blackwell said. “With Nashville in previous years there just was a logjam of players, and I don’t think I really got that chance. … I got some confidence (in New York). To go from playing seven to 10 minutes a night, gaining that trust, that goes a long way.”
According to Evolving-Hockey.com, Blackwell had a 7.2 offensive goals above replacement, good for eighth on the Rangers. That’s compared with a -2.6 defensive goals above replacement, something to keep in mind if the Kraken sticks him in a defensive-traditional role like on the fourth line.
The question for Blackwell will be if he can expand upon his 2021 totals potentially without skating in a top-six role, and if he can take what might be a needed leap in more complicated circumstances.
Blackwell, even though a prorated, 56-game schedule projected him to be a 20-goal scorer with a full slate, likely won’t be one of the top goal-getters for the Kraken. If its forwards play to their ceiling, it won’t need him to be.
Early on, though, with Gourde out and the players getting their skates under them, he could make a big first impression. All he has to do is continue the pace he began last season, in a undeniably more challenging role.