It’s rare enough to have a French player in the NHL who’s actually from France and not from French-speaking Canada, but the Kraken truly have a one-of-a-kind in Pierre Edouard Bellemare. Still kicking at age-38 in hockey’s top circuit, the left-shot forward from the northeastern suburbs of Paris brings a unique background and energy.
As a much younger man, Bellemare played in the top French league for three seasons, which isn’t saying much on the global scale, before hopping to Sweden for eight years playing between that country’s top two leagues.
In 2014 as a 29-year-old he finally made it to the NHL when he joined the Philadelphia Flyers. A decade and four organizations later, he signed with the Kraken on July 7th.
“I had the experience with Vegas (in their 1st two seasons as an expansion team) right, the fact that it’s fresh, new, and you stamp your culture into the culture of the organization is always something interesting. Also, you saw the progression from year one to year two (in Seattle) and I was like, ‘OK, I want to be a part of that.’ I’m an older player, but I still have a chance to go with a team that can win the Cup and I want to help the team do that.”
Bellemare is touted as a good face-off guy and a solid penalty killer. Whatayaknow, two areas the Kraken struggled with last season.
In hockey it’s obviously helpful to start with puck possession. Seattle was abysmal at the dots, winning just 45.3% of their draws, second-worst in the NHL. Bellemare was at 52.3% with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. Simple math.
Also, the Kraken penalty kill took quite awhile to get going in 2022-’23, improving gradually, but still finishing with a number no one would be proud of, 76.7%, good for 21st best in the league. The happy news: they were much better when it mattered most, 82.9%, fourth best among playoff teams.
Keep in mind, Seattle beat the team with the best PK thru the 1st round, the Colorado Avalanche. Proof of the Kraken’s ongoing effectiveness at even strength, even without winning faceoffs.
Pencilled in as a 4th-line center, Bellemare knows there are prospects practically or literally half of his age gunning for his job.
“That’s awesome, you need those young guys to come and be competitive,” he said. “I feel it’s different than ten years ago, I feel now the young guys that are coming, they are more in the manly shape where it used to be they were more in kid shape, Now they’re ready to push and to move and I said I will always keep playing hockey as long as I keep learning stuff, and those guys are the reason I can keep learning because I can’t sit, I have to challenge myself to improve and to be better. I see it as a good thing.”
Prospect Shane Wright, age-19, would be one of those hoping to make Bellemare take a seat.
In the meantime the Frenchman will use his many well established relationships to make the most of his own Kraken opportunity. He’s tight with former Colorado Avalanche teammate Andre Burakovsky and he’s been working out in the off-seasons with defenseman Adam Larsson for a decade-and-a-half. All three of them speak Swedish.
“We’ve always been chirping each other in the summer and now were on the same team, it’s really cool,” Bellemare said. “Those two guys, because they speak Swedish and I lived in Sweden so long, it feels like I’m home, far away from home, so it makes it much, much easier.”
Bellemare has been on the losing side in the Stanley Cup Final twice, with Vegas in 2018 and in 2022 when his Lightning lost to Burakovsky and the Avalanche. His window of opportunity to hoist the chalice is nearing a close, whether he sticks with the Kraken or not.
Bellemare can play left wing or center. His value is clear cut. Whatever his “spot” is, it’s presently his to lose.
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