What’s next, and who’s next?
The familiar question often associated with the Seattle Kraken lineup returned on Friday late morning at Kraken Community Iceplex, the first practice after the team announced, less than 24 hours prior, forward Jaden Schwartz will miss four to six weeks with a hand injury and surgery will be required to fix the ailment.
Schwartz’s absence means the Kraken lose more than just another forward – Alex Wennberg has remained in COVID-19 protocol and Brandon Tanev is lost for the season recovering from ACL surgery. They will miss a playmaker, veteran leadership, and a special teams presence.
On the Kraken, Schwartz is:
- 2nd, points (20)
- Tied for 1st, assists (14)
- 2nd, shots (70)
- 3rd, among forwards for average time on ice (18:28)
- 4th, among forwards for average power play time (2:15)
Not to mention, he has played with Jordan Eberle on the same line virtually all year, with chemistry as a value between the two.
Eberle said stick work and “unrecognized” details are elements that are now on the shelf with Schwartz, who has also served as a front-of-the-net presence on the Kraken power play – often where loose pucks and rebounds wait but for the price of physical punishment.
Funny enough, that’s where Schwartz was twice seen in his last piece of game action, a 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 29.
“We’ve dealt with it before, there’s always guys getting hurt,” said Eberle. “You’ve got to figure out chemistry with other guys. I think (Jared McCann) and I have been playing together a little bit, and we’ve got ‘Jo-Jo’ with us now.”
“When a guy goes down you’ve got to pick it up collectively. Not just one guy can do it. It’ll be a big task, but we have to find the depth to do it.”
The projected solution this week is the guy nicknamed “Jo-Jo,” forward Marcus Johansson, moving to McCann (center) and Eberle’s (right wing) line since the start of the week with the hope of a spark in the short-term absence of Wennberg and long-term absence of Schwartz.
The trio have been previously seen on ice together in power play situations and started the second period face-off together on Dec. 30 against Calgary before working the puck quickly up ice.
Calle Jarnkrok, also a part of that power play unit, banged in a rebound just nine seconds later.
As far as Johansson is concerned, Eberle said his work is also valued in the trenches, complimenting the offensive abilities of McCann and Eberle – both combining for 25 goals, and are top three on the Kraken in points.
“I think with ‘Jo-Jo,’ if our line’s going to be successful, you’re going to see him around the net, creating screens, flash screens, and getting loose pucks around there,” said Eberle. “(McCann) and I have to do a good job of getting the puck to him. It’s always hard in practice because you’re not playing games but you’re doing systematic things in the offensive and defensive zone.”
“It’s nice we’ve had this week to work on that.”
Johansson has endured a two-goal, 22-game season that was slowed right out of the gate with a lower-body injury after the season opener but had six goals in 36 games last year with the Minnesota Wild, prorated to a double-digit output over a full 82-game schedule. He also has twice cracked the 20-goal mark with the Washington Capitals.
To make the line work together, Dave Hakstol said in Johansson’s fundamentals, the Kraken are working with a “different player.” But, there are elements he sees to fuse the trio together.
“He can be a real driver as far as transporting that puck into the zone,” said Hakstol. “He’s really good there five-on-five and on our power play as well. In the zone he’s a guy that works well off the goal line.”
“He can bring some real benefits to his linemates from that area, in terms of his ability to make plays off that goal line and his vision down there.”
With the trio together on another day of forechecking, special teams work and three-on-three overtime drills featured in practice, the Kraken are maneuvering through a seven-day layoff, with three consecutive games against the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, and Winnipeg Jets postponed due to COVID-19 protocol and scheduling restrictions, full of uncertainty.
With Johansson, who hasn’t missed a game since Nov. 6, the mission at hand is stability.
Notes: Wennberg has been in COVID-19 protocol since Jan. 3 … Jeremy Lauzon has remained in COVID-19 protocol since New Year’s Day … through two power play drills, Carson Soucy and Yanni Gourde were seen as rotating personnel.
Kraken practice lineup:
Power play unit 1: Johansson (front), Eberle, Jarnkrok, McCann, Giordano (point)
Unit 2: Donato (front), Geekie, Appleton, McCann, Dunn (point)