EDMONTON, Alberta — The on-ice debut of the Kraken was something Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett and his wife, Wendy, had both envisioned experiencing in a much different way.
So, when the couple awakened here Tuesday morning in their downtown condominium, they both looked at each other and admitted how strange it felt for Tippett to be going up against the team he helped create. It was as an NHL Seattle senior adviser, starting the summer of 2018, that Tippett was in on the planning of everything from the Kraken’s future training facility to the actual team name.
“At first, the Kraken name, it hit me more as a cartoon character,’’ Tippett said before Tuesday night’s game of some of the early naming discussions he partook in. “But the way it’s come out and the jersey, the way it’s been depicted, I thought was really great. I haven’t found a person that doesn’t like the uniform. Everyone thinks it’s a perfect fit.
“I know there was a lot of work put into that. A lot of head scratching. But it all turned out very well.’’
Tippett, who spoke at length with his good friend and former teammate, Kraken general manager Ron Francis, before Tuesday’s 6-0 Edmonton victory, said he’s impressed with everything he’s seen of the team from afar.
“I’m so happy and proud for the (Kraken) people in Seattle because I know how hard they’ve worked,’’ he said. “I mean, putting this whole thing together in three years from the buildings, dealing with governments and the NHL, I give (Kraken CEO) Tod Leiweke and his people a ton of credit.”
And Tippett envisioned being a part of it right now. But he admits to a letdown when the NHL delayed the Kraken’s launch by a year in approving the franchise in December 2018.
Then, that ensuing 2019 spring, when new Oilers GM Ken Holland approached Tippett about coaching a team that had both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on it, he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“You don’t get many opportunities to coach players like that,’’ said Tippett, now entering his third season behind the Edmonton bench. “And Seattle had been pushed back a bit. So, I was kind of hemming and hawing and when I was offered the position here, it was a chance to maybe go and win before it’s time to maybe slow down in life.’’
Many are picking the Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights to battle it out for Pacific Division supremacy. Besides McDavid and Draisaitl, Tippett also has defenseman Darnell Nurse — who scored Tuesday night’s opening goal on an end-to-end rush — entering his career prime.
He also has Spokane-born forward Kailer Yamamoto emerging into a top-six winger who will play alongside Draisaitl on Edmonton’s second line this season.
“He’s a smart player,” Tippett said. “He’s tenacious, he’s smart. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he’ll go anywhere he needs to go to retrieve a puck. It’s funny, if you ask McDavid and Draisaitl who’s one of their favorite guys to play with, it’s him. Because he is such a good puckhandler.”
Tippett, by the way, assured that Yamamoto and fellow Spokane native Derek Ryan will both be in Edmonton’s lineup on Friday night when they visit the Kraken in Everett.
…Among the line-juggling by Kraken coach Dave Hakstol heading into his team’s second preseason contest was the insertion of youngsters Luke Henman and Ryker Evans, both of whom have been considered undersized throughout their careers.
Both played junior hockey last season before center Henman was signed as an undrafted free-agent — becoming the Kraken’s first franchise player — while defenseman Evans was selected with the team’s second round pick in July’s entry draft.
“They’ve got to go play the game the way they’re capable of playing the game,” Hakstol said. “They’ve got to concentrate on their preparation and their confidence as they go out there and do the things they do well. That’s kind of what I really like about both of those young players. They’ve shown every day in camp that they understand the game and they’re confident.”
The knock on Henman after he was drafted by Carolina in 2018 was that he was too slim for a 6-foot frame that barely topped 150 pounds. He played at about 175 last season for Blainville-Boisbriand in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and says he added about 12 pounds this past summer.
“Getting bigger and stronger was definitely a main focus for me and I think I had a really good summer training with a lot of pro guys in Halifax,’’ Henman said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “My shooting release is something I’ve been working on too, obviously. Goalies are a lot bigger and better here than in junior.’’
…Hakstol brought his entire training-camp roster to Edmonton, knowing he’ll have to change things up considerably with the back-to-back contests Tuesday and then Wednesday night in Calgary. One player left behind was forward Colin Blackwell, still nursing a lower-body injury suffered right before camp opened.