Seattle Kraken Prospect
Just how serious a goaltending prospect is Niklas Kokko for the Seattle Kraken? Pretty darn serious.
The 19-year-old Finn stands sufficiently tall for today’s standards, at about 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, and who’s to say he’s not done growing. His taste of Finland’s top professional SM Liiga has seen him make ten limited appearances over the last two seasons with goals against numbers a little under 3.00 and a save percentage a bit above .900.
Dropped into the 2nd tier professional playoffs this past spring, Kokko played in three games with a save percentage at .917 and a GAA of .231.
The Seattle Kraken selected him 58th-overall in the 2nd-round of the NHL Draft in Montreal. He finds himself in a more enviable political situation than his stiffest young competition in the organization, Russian Semyon Vyazovoi. Seattle chose the latter in the 6th-round in 2021, as they did Finn Visa Vedenpää last month.
Vyazovoi, who didn’t make it over for Seattle Kraken Development Camp earlier in July, is expected to play once again in the Vysshaya Hokkeinaya Liga (VHL) in Russia this coming season, one step below the top pro KHL.
Kraken Development Camp featured the two drafted Finns, Czech goalie Alex Stezka, who’s under a two-way contract for next season and could end up in Coachella Valley, and two free agent camp invites.
After sitting as the third goalie for Team Finland at the last World Junior Championship behind Canucks prospect Aku Koskenvuo and undrafted Jani Lampenin, it’s Kokko’s crease to lose for the 2024 tournament that starts this December in Gothenburg, Sweden. Koskenvuo, playing at Harvard, and Lampenin, playing back home, have aged out of the event.
Kokko leads a threesome into the World Junior Summer Showcase this week in Plymouth, Michigan, an event that features a good chunk of the likely WJC line-ups for three different countries.
The native of Oulu previously helped backstop his country to a bronze medal in the World Under-18 tournament. He’s considered more athletic than most and mature for his age. In 2019-’20 he won the award for being Finland’s top Under-18 goaltender.
Pros And Cons
The Kraken trust the efforts of venerable goaltending coach Ari Hilli in Karpat, where Kokko has grown and developed, yet there is much work to be done.
As Seattle Kraken General Manager Ron Francis and Director of Player Development Jeff Tambellini have both reminded us, the vast majority of goaltenders take longer to develop and the results are more unpredictable than with skaters.
Kokko is looking for consistency in his game, part of which will come with continued mental maturity and focus. He seems to play a bit more of a hybrid style, staying on his feet longer than most, and his athleticism allows him to make difficult saves. For him it’s about consistently stopping the routine ones while maintaining his position.
Goaltending desires and requirements can sneak up on a franchise, and with an unexpected injury or two, a crisis can easily develop. For four more years the Seattle Kraken plan to rely on 31-year-old Philipp Grubauer, a goalie who missed a month of last season due to injury, but rebounded to put together an impressive playoff performance.
Veteran Martin Jones stepped in during the regular season and saved the day. “Jonesy” has moved on.
The back-up position can be tenuous, with a competition developing between Chris Driedger, coming off knee injury, and Joey Daccord, solid in the Calder Cup playoffs but unproven in the NHL.
There are no prospects prepared to save the Kraken’s bacon, Kokko included. Down the road however, the development of him or an equivalent becomes of utmost importance.
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