Former Seattle Thunderbirds junior star Alexander True made his Kraken debut Saturday night as coach Dave Hakstol was forced to again juggle lines with more players entering COVID-19 protocol.
The additions of centers Yanni Gourde and Riley Sheahan to the COVID list early Saturday, along with assistant coach Jay Leach, led to True being recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, and centering the fourth line for that night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’s not ideal to have these types of changes on the morning of a game,” Hakstol said after his team’s morning skate at Climate Pledge Arena. “But it’s not new for anybody in the sports world right now. So really, we just want to get all the information and then we’ll take a step back for a few minutes and then make some decisions on what we feel is the best for our lineup and how we put our roster together for tonight.
“Obviously, we have to be flexible and look for our best solutions.”
Kraken forward Colin Blackwell had already been in protocol for Thursday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets and remained there for the Columbus contest. That Jets game had been the first for Kraken captain Mark Giordano after a 10-day absence in COVID protocol, while McCann and Jarnkrok also missed significant time after contracting the coronavirus earlier in the season.
Hakstol went with a familiar top line with Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle centered by Jared McCann, followed by Alex Wennberg centering Marcus Johnasson and Mason Appleton. Morgan Geekie centered the third line between Brandon Tanev and Calle Jarnkrok, while True had the fourth line with Ryan Donato and Joonas Donskoi.
“It is what it is, right now this is the world we’re living in,” Kraken center Wennberg said Saturday. “And with all of this news going on, it’s really serious. You’ve just got to take it and make the best out of it.”
Wennberg added there isn’t much players can do other than take care of their own personal business when off the ice. “For me it’s just try to be careful and do the things you can to prevent it.”
True is the 16th native of Denmark to play in the NHL, having done so in 19 contests with the San Jose Sharks before this season. He has seven goals and 11 assists in 22 games with Charlotte this season.
In 2017, he scored the overtime winner in for the Thunderbirds to clinch their first ever Western Hockey League Championship on the road against the Regina Pats.
Wennberg likes playing Columbus
Wennberg said it never gets old playing against the Columbus team that originally drafted him, even though he’s faced them once already this season and other times during a lone year with Florida before last summer’s expansion draft.
The Blue Jackets took Wennberg 14th overall in 2013, and he spent six seasons there, logging 201 points overall and a career best 59 in 2016-17.
“Columbus is always going to be a big part of my life,” Wennberg said. “They brought me into this league, and I have a lot of great memories. … They have a special place in my heart.”
Wennberg feels he’s become “a better player” since leaving Columbus, where he was not quite the same after a concussion suffered in an April 2018 playoff game on a controversial hit by Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals.
His point totals lagged his final two seasons there, and he departed for Florida as a free agent, scoring a career-high 17 goals with the Panthers last season.
Marcus Johansson, playing in his 700th NHL game, nearly had a goal in the opening minutes after a nice rush into the Columbus zone. Johansson circled in behind the net, then tried a wraparound on Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins. The puck appeared to partially cross the goal line before Merzlikins managed to get his leg out and keep it from going all the way over.
Johansson joins Mark Giordano and Jordan Eberle as Kraken players to reach the 700-game mark. He’s the 11th active Swedish player to reach that mark.
Kraken killing it
The Kraken killed successive penalties in the second period, including a borderline slashing call against True after he’d taken some whacks at a loose puck juggled by goalie Merzlikins. True was promptly slashed repeatedly and knocked to the ice by a pair of Columbus players who went unpenalized — prompting vociferous booing by the home crowd throughout the ensuing penalty kill. The Kraken entered the night having killed off 19 of the last 22 penalties against since Nov. 21, good for seventh best in the NHL that span.