ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kraken draft pick Ryker Evans has signed a three-year entry-level contract, and there’s a chance he’ll make his professional debut this spring with their American Hockey League affiliate.
Evans just finished his final junior season with the Regina Pats of the WHL but missed several of the team’s final games after jamming his wrist. He got into the team’s final game for a few shifts — more of a courtesy for it being his WHL finale — and the Kraken will have doctors examine him in Seattle before any AHL decision is made.
“He missed the last couple of weeks, but the MRI showed everything is clean,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said Friday. “So I want to get him in and get our docs to have a look. They looked at the MRIs, but I want them to get their hands on his wrist, and then we’ll go from there.”
If everything checks out, the 20-year-old Evans, the team’s second-round pick (35th overall) from last summer’s NHL entry draft, would sign a tryout deal allowing him to make his pro debut this spring with the AHL affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the playoffs.
Unlike No. 2 overall pick Matty Beniers, who joined the Kraken last week, Evans won’t get to “burn” the first year of his three-year NHL entry deal this spring. Evans’ contract won’t start until next fall, when he’ll be invited to training camp. In Beniers’ case, the two-plus weeks he’s playing this month will count as the first of his three NHL seasons toward restricted free agency.
Evans set personal bests with the Pats this season, notching 14 goals and 47 assists — tied for seventh among WHL defensemen — and was a second-team All-Star selection. The Calgary, Alberta, native is widely viewed as the type of puck-moving defender the Kraken need, having lost one in Mark Giordano and with the team heavily relying on Vince Dunn in that regard.
Evans, long viewed as undersized for his position, was one of the biggest surprises in the draft. Most projections had him going in the fourth round or later, though Kraken scouts were said to be united on the pick.
Francis can’t guarantee Evans would get playing time with Charlotte but said he’d at least benefit from practicing with pro players.
Though it’s possible Evans will make the Kraken out of camp in September, for now the likelihood is he’d start with the team’s new AHL affiliate in Coachella Valley, California.
“We can’t make that decision today,” Francis said. “It depends what he does this summer, how he plays in camp and with the exhibition games. If he earns a spot with the big club, then he does. And if he doesn’t, then he’ll start in Coachella.”
Kraken center Yanni Gourde was among many NHL players past and present Friday paying tribute to Hall of Fame winger Guy Lafleur, who died at age 70 after a bout with lung cancer.
Gourde grew up in the province of Quebec, where Lafleur was revered as a junior star with the Quebec Remparts and as arguably the NHL’s most dynamic player of the late 1970s with a Montreal Canadiens dynasty that captured four consecutive Stanley Cup titles.
Lafleur was the first NHL player with at least 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer three times and twice captured the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
His death came just a week after New York Islanders legend and fellow Quebec native Mike Bossy died at age 65 after battling lung cancer. Though Gourde was too young to see Lafleur play, he was well aware of the winger’s status transcending generations of hockey fans.
“He’s a huge legend in Quebec,” Gourde said. “His career was phenomenal, but I think just as a man and a human being he was so great. I had a chance to meet him once at his restaurant when I was a young kid. So it was great memories. Like I said, he was a legend in Montreal, both on the ice and off the ice.”
A fine line
Gourde’s line with Jared McCann and Karson Kuhlman has not only been producing of late, but also preventing top opposition trios from scoring. The latest came Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, where the threesome of Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen was held scoreless until just over three minutes remained in the Kraken’s 3-2 victory.
“I think we’re defending as a unit of five, and that’s the key,” Gourde said, adding that defenders play just as key a role. “Anytime you have a unit of star players … you’ve got to defend as a unit of five. Everybody’s got to work hard. Everybody’s got to reload. Everybody’s got to do the little things to make it successful.”
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said Gourde’s line: “Have drawn some pretty tough assignments, obviously. And hey, you’re going to lose some of those battles, but the majority of those nights they’ve done a great job.”
The Kraken trio continued its strong work in Friday’s opening period, with Gourde scoring on a tic-tac-toe passing play with Kuhlman that McCann also drew an assist on.
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