Building a scouting department from scratch is quite the undertaking, so it’s no surprise that Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis has brought in some familiar faces this off-season. Francis, who was GM of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-18 and had been with that organization in a front office capacity since 2006-07, has already brought in quite the array of ex-Canes to help him stock Seattle’s prospect pipeline.
Robert Kron, the Kraken’s first director of amateur scouting, leads the charge and he has been joined by amateur scouts Mike Dawson and Tony MacDonald. Toss in assistant GM Rick Olczyk and you’ve got quite the crew of ex-Canes ready to shape Seattle.
But what could this Carolina influence mean for the Kraken’s first NHL draft? Obviously these men won’t be the only voices in the room and other members of the Kraken amateur staff are coming in from different NHL organizations (while others are first-time NHL staffers), but it is noteworthy to have such a cluster of minds that know each other well.
So what can we glean from Carolina’s draft classes during the Francis era? Taking a look at the Hurricanes’ picks from 2015-2018, there are definitely some patterns that emerge, though we also have to be careful.
Beginning with the caveats, we have to assume that there are coincidences in such a tumultuous process – it’s very possible that players coveted by the Canes were snapped up a pick or two prior, causing Francis and crew to go in another direction.
There are also some curious cases, like the fact Francis and his scouts didn’t take any players straight from the U.S. National Team Development Program during their time, but they did select two NTDP alumni in Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin (fifth overall in 2015) and Michigan blueliner Luke Martin (52nd overall in 2017). So again; perhaps just a weird coincidence.
And of course, there is the fact that Carolina already had a full roster of NHLers and an established prospect pipeline, while Seattle is starting from scratch – so the Kraken will likely be looking for more breadth and less fine-tuning that the Hurricanes were.
With all that said, the first thing that leaps out about the Kraken-Canes crew is an emphasis on players from Finland, the QMJHL and WHL. While Andrei Svechnikov came from OHL Barrie via Russia, the Canes typically didn’t dip into the Ontario market much during that era. In the meantime, the ‘Q’ and the ‘Dub’ both saw five players taken by Carolina, headlined by Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie and Nicolas Roy.
As for Finland, the Canes hit gold in 2015 when they nabbed future No. 1 center Sebastian Aho early in the second round. He was the first of six Finns taken by Carolina during that period, a group that also includes Janne Kuokkanen (not all these players are still with the organization).
The Francis contingent also had success with the USHL – which is a good sign for Seattle, since the American junior circuit has been one of the few to put together something close to a normal schedule this season. Jack Drury and Matt Filipe were two of the better picks out of Carolina’s USHL lot. The Canes also weren’t afraid to go with long-term projects during this time, picking three American prep schoolers in 2015 and NAHL goalie Jack LaFontaine the season after that.
Now, getting back to the Kraken’s first draft – this will certainly be a year like no other and Seattle won’t even get the benefit of a full slate of games to scout across the globe. But every other team is in the same boat for the 2021 class and I’m sure you won’t hear any complaints from the Kraken staff.
As to Seattle’s first pick, the Kraken have been given the third-best lottery odds, just like the Vegas Golden Knights received in 2017. The Knights ended up picking sixth overall, nabbing WHL Portland’s Cody Glass.
So let’s assume for the sake of argument that nothing changes in the lottery and Seattle picks third. The 2021 draft is heavy on defensemen at the top end and for me, University of Michigan freshman Owen Power is the guy. Other high-end blueliners include OHL Barrie’s Brandt Clarke and Luke Hughes of the U.S. NTDP. In terms of forwards, Michigan also boasts Kent Johnson and Matty Beniers. Johnson hails from B.C., Washington state’s border cousin, so that might be a fun fit.
We are very early into the 2020-21 campaign, but one name that would really fit is Dylan Guenther of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Though the WHL hasn’t started play yet, the right winger got in some reps by playing for Sherwood Park of the Alberta Jr. A League this fall and he was pretty fun to watch, with speed and elite scoring chops. There’s also defenseman Carson Lambos in the WHL; he ate up major minutes for the Winnipeg Ice last year and has a lot of nice tools.
As for Finland, the only top-10 option right now is center Aatu Raty, who was surprisingly left off Finland’s world junior camp roster today after playing at the tournament last year. Raty has gotten off to a slow start with Karpat Oulu this season, but he’s still got potential as a two-way center – and again, he has time to step it up a notch this season. Is he a top-five pick right now? Maybe not. But should the Kraken slide to No. 6, maybe there’s a fit. We can also practically assume that between the expansion draft and other teams having cap issues, that Seattle will acquire at least one more first-rounder for 2021, so maybe Raty is a fit further down the line.
Or perhaps the Kraken go in a completely different direction. After all, Martin Necas didn’t fit the typical Canes profile, but they took him in 2017’s first round – so clearly Francis and crew aren’t dogmatic.
The only thing certain at this point is that when Francis and the Kraken step up to the podium to make their first-ever selection, the hockey world will be electric with anticipation.