The wait of four months is finally over.
Pre-season hockey has arrived, and the slate is wiped clean. Coming off a historic 46-win season that got to within nine wins of the Stanley Cup, the Kraken will return to Climate Pledge Arena for the first time since the Stanley Cup Playoffs and mid-May for the pre-season opener, 7pm PT (950 AM KJR) against the Calgary Flames.
The matchup will actually cover another “first” in franchise history: split-squad matchups. They are commonplace in the NHL, but a practice that has been rendered impossible for the Kraken until this season, mainly due a lack of prospect depth that has since been covered with three NHL Drafts and multiple free agent signings.
“It’s opportunity for a lot of players today,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, who will travel with the squad playing in Calgary.
“In some ways, split squads can be a little bit challenging because you’re spread out. But you take the positives out of it, and a ton of opportunity for guys who have earned it through camp.”
Hakstol will oversee the likes of Shane Wright, Ryker Evans, free agent signee Logan Morrison and even Everett Silvertips draft pick Kaden Hammell in Calgary. Dan Bylsma, with Steve Briere and Dave Lowry on the bench in Seattle, will turn the wheel with familiar faces such as Matty Beniers, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Vince Dunn, and Adam Larsson all suiting up at Climate Pledge Arena.
While it’s unknown how a split will be divided for playing time, Grubauer will start in net for the game in Seattle, backed up by Joey Daccord.
“I just want to come here and put my best foot forward, and show what I can do,” said Daccord. “Last season, I was really happy with my season in the American League, and happy with how I played when I got an opportunity up here. I’m just trying to continue that positive momentum and build off of it.”
Daccord should be happy, after all, as he makes a push with Chris Driedger for the backup job behind Grubauer. He was a linchpin in net for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, an expansion team who made it to game seven of the Calder Cup Final before succumbing to the Hershey Bears, while playing in a league record 26 postseason games. Daccord started every game, going 26-8-3 in the regular season with three shutouts, equaling that latter mark in the postseason along with a .926 save percentage.
Grubauer recovered from an early season injury to go 17-14-4 with a .895 save percentage but got hot over the latter stretch of the regular season and was the best player on the ice in a legendary game seven triumph in Denver where his 33 saves upset the defending champion Avalanche.
Driedger, who recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament to go 9-4 with a .908 save percentage late last season in Coachella Valley, will be backed up by Ales Stezka.
PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS (Kraken home game group, 9/25):