Final cuts were executed on the weekend, putting the Seattle Kraken officially in regular season form.
Saturday morning, Kraken PR announced that prospects Ryker Evans and Shane Wright had been assigned to the Coachella Valley Firebirds of the American Hockey League, along with veterans Chris Driedger, Cale Fleury, and John Hayden, pending their passage through the waiver wire. They cleared.
Slimming down the bulk of the youth on the roster leaves Seattle with 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders for their season-opener at the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
Aside from the addition of Joey Daccord and Tye Kartye, as well as a small handful of free agency signings, lineups will be nearly identical to those deployed last season. A majority of Seattle’s prospects will have to wait before making the jump into the NHL. That includes Evans and Wright, who each presented strong cases for their promotion.
Upon an unknown ailment to top defenseman Vince Dunn during the preseason, Evans shouldered hefty on-ice responsibility as his replacement. Seattle’s top defensive prospect held his own through five preseason games, recording upwards of 20 minutes of ice time each night. A strong skater knowledgeable of systematic expectations, Evans fit right in, but demonstrated that his decision making and puck handling could use some fine-tuning.
Nevertheless, his steady progression puts him on the cusp of joining the team permanently.
“We’re extremely happy with where he’s at and what he did [in training camp],” coach Dave Hakstol told the media. “His growth over the last 12 months has been outstanding.”
Tight personnel circumstances are the only thing standing between Evans and the NHL, who stands as the prospect closest to completing his development. Having three defensive pairings settled and the seventh defenseman position filled by Jaycob Megna leaves no room for reinforcements.
“There’s no easy decision with Ryker,” Hakstol acknowledged.
Evans will return to the helm of Coachella Valley’s defensive corps alongside partner Gustav Olofsson, with his call-up only to be expected should injury occur higher in the organization. Seattle believes the young defenseman should use his upcoming season with the Firebirds to hone his craft and embrace a leadership role, all while maintaining his high quality of play.
“The great thing for him is to be able to go back to the American Hockey League, pick up where he left off, expect to be one of the best players in that league, and then hold himself to that level and continue to grow,” Hakstol added.
Despite making strides physically and mentally over the summer, Wright, similarly stunted by a logjam on Seattle’s roster, will also start this season in the desert. Four preseason outings rotating in and out of what was typically a fourth-line position makes it clear that he is close, but still not primed, for the big show.
Evaluation of the centerman has been tricky. An inconsistent stream of game action has marred Wright’s career after spending all of last season bouncing between Seattle, Coachella Valley, the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, and Canada’s World Juniors team, preventing him from ever truly establishing himself on a roster. As a result, his shooting ability and vision have matured, but his game lacks the physicality necessary in making those skills impactful at the NHL-level.
Seattle doesn’t have the capacity to take on Wright, who still possesses areas of weakness in his game that the organization would prefer he strengthen prior to joining the team.
“We’d like to see him demand the puck more and handle it and show what he can do when he has it on his stick,” Kraken General Manager Ron Francis said. “He didn’t look intimidated being in training camp. He looked like he fit in, felt comfortable with our guys. Other times he showed that he still needed some things to work on.”
For now, further development in the AHL is exactly what Wright needs, and Seattle has no trouble biding their time for perfection.
“He’s 19 years old. It’s a process with these kids. We’re going to continue to work with him, but the Kraken family is really happy with where he is and how he’s progressing.”
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