When the Seattle Kraken first came into the league, there was an expectation that they would crib some of the moves used by the Vegas Golden Knights in their franchise-building efforts by leveraging the expansion draft to get extra assets from teams that didn't want to lose a certain player.
It didn't happen.
The Kraken largely just went about their business at the expansion draft, then made the standard seven selections at the 2021 NHL entry draft two days later. Also, they didn't go to the Stanley Cup final in their first year of existence (admittedly, a high bar for sure).
But GM Ron Francis and crew did use the team's non-playoff position in their maiden voyage to stockpile extra picks for the 2022 draft and came away with an incredible haul that will help the franchise in both the short- and long-term.
Seattle ended up making 11 picks in Montreal, getting a wide variety of skill sets and positions covered off in the process. It felt like they ticked all the boxes and director of amateur scouting Robert Kron agreed with that assessment.
"Yeah, I think so," Kron said. "We had a lot of picks and we used them well. We got a lot of centers, which is always a premium position, and some of those centers can play wing. We got a puckmoving, mobile defenseman and a goalie we're excited about. We accomplished what we wanted to."
The goalie is Niklas Kokko, a 6-foot-3 Finnish product who played for Karpat Oulu's junior squad this past season. The mobile defenseman is Ty Nelson, the OHL North Bay star who was taken early in the third round by the Kraken.
"He's got high compete, he's a very positive kid who works really hard and he's strong," Kron said. "He's a right-shot defenseman who skates well and has a good shot. He's going to be really good in the room."
The Kraken also traded up in the third round to nab center Ben MacDonald from Nobles prep school in New England. MacDonald was a favorite of the scouts I spoke to during the season and clearly Seattle's talent hawks felt the same way.
"Our regional guys were very passionate about MacDonald, they had a big belief in his ability," Kron said. "We went to see him and high school is harder to predict, but he has size, he has speed, he's got hockey pedigree and he's a really good kid."
The Kraken also landed a super-skilled Jagger Firkus and a big finisher in right winger Jani Nyman, among others. But of course, the massive win for Seattle in Montreal was landing Shane Wright with the fourth pick overall on the first night when many thought he would go first overall to the hometown Habs.
"The one that has the most impact is Wright," Francis said. "We think there's a possibility he steps (right) into our lineup, so that might change the things we look at in the next couple weeks, whether it's trades or free agency. We looked at a lot of different scenarios and that probably wasn't the highest probability, but we did think it was a possibility and we're excited it happened. When you look at Shane Wright and Matty Beniers - it's so tough to build down the middle as an expansion team. It's going to take time to get them where we need to get them, but it bodes well for this franchise."
Indeed, top-end centers are the hardest thing to find in the NHL and trading for one is nearly impossible. Free agency isn't much better and in that case, you're almost assuming an overpay on either money, term or both. Seattle now has the rights to Beniers and Wright during their entire prime years and that's pretty important for a team that looked very weak down the middle last season.
Once Beniers was finished his 2021-22 college campaign with the Michigan Wolverines, he met up with the Kraken for the end of the NHL season and put up a very exciting nine points in 10 games. His official rookie campaign will be highly anticipated and if Wright makes the team right away, they can provide cover for each other on different lines.
Now, will this turn the Kraken into Pacific Division contenders right away? No. But it puts the organization on the right path. Depending on how aggressive Francis is this summer in his pursuit of free agents and trade targets, the Kraken may once again find themselves at or near the bottom of the divisional sea. But if Beniers and Wright take positive steps (perhaps one of them even wins the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year), then it's worth it. Plus, another high draft pick in what already promises to be a loaded 2023 draft led by center Connor Bedard would not be the worst thing in the world.
Seattle is still in its infancy as an NHL franchise, but the 2022 draft was a major win for the Kraken's future.