Kraken In The Pecking Order
There are plenty of pairs “to be determined” in the Pacific Division, but based on the talent of some of the top dogs and the stability and strong all-around play of others, we’re still able to put together a pretty sound list.
Who’s who and where are they? The Kraken are in very good shape coming off last season’s performance.
— Vegas Golden Knights – We’ll keep this first one real simple. A combination of big, physical, mobile and mean, with championship pedigree even before they arrived in Las Vegas, Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo rule the roost. Former Seattle Thunderbird Shea Theodore, who can play either side, is outstanding and nothing changes if he’s inserted up a notch.
As we stated in our Pacific Division top-2 center rankings; a Stanley Cup repeat will be tough given the attrition, age, and potential injuries to this line-up, but then again, repeating is always a daunting task.
— Calgary Flames – What’s not to like about a top pair entering its prime together. Both lefty Noah Hanifin and righty Rasmus Andersson are 26-years-old, both weigh a little under 210-pounds, with Hanifin about two inches taller at 6-foot-3. The Boston native is entering a contract year, never a bad thing as it relates to performance, while the Swede is halfway through a six-year deal and coming off his most productive goal scoring and point-per-game season of his career.
Both help quarterback power play units and they often work together on the penalty kill. Doesn’t hurt that they have the backing of MacKenzie Weegar and Chris Tanev in the rotation.
The Flames expect to bounce back off a disappointing year, and while the eyeballs will mostly be up ice, Hanifin and Andersson that will play a big part in it.
— Seattle Kraken – If this was about individuals, forget it, but this is about having a stable top pair if possible and the Kraken know theirs. Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson were key in helping the Kraken reach Game-7 in the 2nd-round of the playoffs. Ranking Seattle 3rd will gall some with more singular talent and it might gall the Oilers, Larsson’s former team, but actions speak louder than words.
The key moving ahead: Dunn at least repeating his performance from his break-out year and Larsson continuing to lay the lumber. Of all of the top pairings, real or hypothetical, this one seems most vulnerable to a drop off for whatever reason. For now, their outstanding 5-on-5 play last season speaks for itself.
— Vancouver Canucks – Welcome to the hot seat Carson Soucy. He makes the most sense to ride shotgun next to the Canucks top notch NHL puck mover Quinn Hughes. The Kraken transplant will provide some size and toughness alongside the star, not to the degree of former Canucks hitting machine Luke Schenn, but on legs that are four years younger. Soucy has always been a plus-player while skating lower in the pairings, even during the Kraken’s subpar inaugural season.
The biggest difference for him; the eyeballs and the scrutiny. Hughes has the ability to make Soucy look good while he adjusts to his new surroundings, but then again, Hughes has the ability to make anyone look good. This gives head coach Rick Tocchet the freedom to experiment when he sees fit.
— Edmonton Oilers – Wow. I’m still not sold on Darnell Nurse making $9.25-million per season through 2029-’30. I’m not sold on him making $9.25-million for any number of seasons, but here’s another chance for him to prove me and everyone else wrong. For that kind of money, he and whoever his partner is should be at the top of this list.
Spreading the size and wealth is the main reason one would see Cody Ceci to the right of Nurse and Evan Bouchard one pair below. 23-year-old Bouchard, taken three picks behind Hughes in the 2018 NHL Draft at 10th-overall, has size, skill and mobility.
The Oilers have a decent rotation with last year’s addition of veteran Mattias Ekholm, but they still seem to be figuring out how to play in their own end for stretches. Thus, they notch 5th.
— Los Angeles Kings – OK. Who’s playing with Drew Doughty. It’s really that simple. The quirky right-handed veteran with the “summer teeth” grin (some are here, some are there), continues to bring it through thick and thin. He had nine goals and 52 points last season. The 33-year-old, two-time Stanley Cup champion (2012, 2014) will likely be skating alongside 24-year-old Mikey Anderson.
— Anaheim Ducks – Well, let’s see, if youngster Jamie Drysdale is to join Cam Fowler on the top pair, he’ll need a contract first. That’s presently a work in progress. Drysdale showed great promise as a 20-year-old righty on a struggling hockey club. The 6th-overall pick from 2020 has natural skills and will gradually learn how to take care of business in his own end. He and the club hope he’s still growing. He’ll get physically stronger regardless.
The other option to join 31-year-old stalwart Fowler is 33-year-old Radko Gudas, but that’s not ideal and that’s as deep as it goes. General manager Pat Verbeek has work to do.
— San Jose Sharks – Holy moly Marc-Edouard Vlasic. How many NHL Eastern Conference fans are familiar with the fact that this guy’s been with the team since 2006 and that the 36-year-old is pulling down $7-million for another three seasons. That’s if they’ve even heard of him. The venerable “Pickles” has seen many come and go, maxing out his exposure with the Sharks during their trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
No playoffs for four years, enough for Erik Karlsson, his Norris Trophy, and his 101 points to say bye-bye, leaving Vlasic with a mix and match.
By the way, I say all of this knowing that Vlasic’s likely an overpaid 1B or 2nd pair guy. Mario Ferraro up top? Jan Rutta, acquired in the Karlsson deal, on the right side? How about Matt Benning? Nah.
Gonna have to leave this one blank and put them at the bottom. Hey Verbeek, did I mention Sharks GM Mike Grier has plenty of work to do.
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