This wasn’t exactly how Kraken center Alex Wennberg envisioned starting training camp ahead of what could be a career-defining season for him.
Wennberg had been in camp a couple of days last month when his fiancee, Felicia Weeren, went into labor as the team prepared to head to Spokane for its preseason opener against the Vancouver Canucks. At that point, with the Kraken also poised to travel to Canada the following week for games in Edmonton and Calgary, the 27-year-old figured it best to skip the first half of his team’s preseason schedule.
“Obviously, you can’t really know when a baby’s going to come — and I thought it was going to come earlier,” Wennberg said Friday after the team’s workout at the Kraken Community Iceplex. “But it didn’t, and we had to wait. Then, obviously, with the Canadian trip and with COVID and everything that was going on, it felt like it was a good decision to be at home. It’s a different world now with the virus.”
Beyond the obvious COVID-19 risks entailed by travel and hotel stays — especially with an unvaccinated newborn at home — there’s the additional challenge of crossing the border during a pandemic. Any player that tests positive for COVID-19 while in Canada would be forced by law to quarantine in that country for up to two weeks.
That wasn’t something relished by new dad Wennberg with a baby and its mother to get back to. So he remained in Seattle with Weeren and their new son, Rio, and watched the Kraken on TV.
When the Kraken returned last week from Alberta, Wennberg prepared for his preseason debut in Everett against the Edmonton Oilers. In that game, he managed four shots and helped set up the tying Jaden Schwartz goal in the final minute of regulation.
He finished with two assists and six shots in the three games while taking a regular power-play turn. Wennberg logged just more than 19 minutes of ice time in a win over the Canucks in Tuesday’s preseason finale — with 7:42 of that coming with the man advantage.
“I don’t see it as an issue,” Wennberg said of skipping three of the six preseason games. “I missed some practices, and I missed the trip that we went on, but other than that I’ve been part of the team. It doesn’t change anything that I missed a few days.
“Obviously, you don’t want to miss out on when guys go and get to know each other when they’re playing those games. But you try to make the best of it.”
Wennberg had looked confident early, centering an all-Swedish line with wingers Marcus Johansson and Calle Jarnkrok. But in the Vancouver finale, he was paired with Joonas Donskoi and Ryan Donato, an experiment with chemistry that might prove fortuitous given Jarnkrok is now in COVID-19 protocol with his return date uncertain.
“The whole thing is about chemistry,” Wennberg said. “There are guys you’ve never played with before, never met before. And now all of a sudden you’re supposed to be teammates and go into battle together. So I feel like this has been just the right amount of time. We’ve all had a few weeks together, gotten to know each other, the system and how everyone likes to play.”
Wennberg had been viewed as a starting center on the first or second line in Yanni Gourde’s absence, and the wingers he has been paired with in camp mostly display similar two-way offensive and defensive skill sets.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol had talked throughout camp about the “options” Wennberg gives him with various line combinations, regardless of whether he or Jared McCann winds up centering the team’s top trio until Gourde is ready.
Hakstol said Friday that he’ll treat Jarnkrok’s absence as he would any injury, meaning this could be the team’s first test of lineup versatility. Jarnkrok has already missed some practices and might be out for Tuesday’s season opener, and possibly longer depending on how long it takes him to clear protocol.
Wennberg said he’ll be ready regardless of linemates. After scoring a career-high 17 goals for the Florida Panthers last season in a pandemic-truncated, 56-game schedule as mostly a third-line center, he signed a three-year, $13.5 million free-agent deal with the Kraken looking to take the next step.
“I came here to be a No. 1 or a No. 2 center,” he said. “And I feel like I’ll get the opportunity here. I went through free agency and had a chance to talk to Seattle and hear what they had in mind.
“I feel that the way they wanted me to play and look at me and my game, it’s a good fit.”
So is fatherhood. At least, the first two weeks of it.
Wennberg and Weeren named their son Rio partly based on the lead character of “La Casa de Papel” — a Spanish TV series since picked up by Netflix and rebranded under the English title “Money Heist.” The series features bank-robber characters that adopt aliases based off names of famous global cities, with Spanish actor Miguel Herran portraying Anibal Cortes — who goes by “Rio’’ among associates.
“The show names people after cities, and we really liked that idea,” Wennberg said. “We haven’t been to Rio yet, but we thought it was the perfect name, and so that’s what we went with.”
And now, with camp nearly done and Wennberg back up to speed, he’ll focus on making his own name in this city.
“With everything going on in the world, our family can’t really be here, so it’s just the three of us — our new little family,” he said. “But it’s really good. It’s been an awesome experience with the city so far, the organization and the (training) facilities. It’s been amazing, and we’re having lots of fun.”