Too many centers for the Kraken? Who’d a thunk it? Is it an actual problem or a blessing?
When 4th-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (pictured with Alex Wennberg) returns from rehabbing his lower body injury, he very well could be the odd man out. That’s mostly because of Jared McCann’s success since moving to the center position on a top line with Tomas Tatar and Jordan Eberle, and the subsequent pecking order up the middle.
“Part of it is the chemistry they’ve shown offensively between he and ‘Tuna’ and ‘Ebs’,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said postgame on Sunday. “That’s been pretty obvious for everyone to see, but the defensive side has come naturally for Jared, if you watch his detail in the D-zone. He’s done it before, it’s not a surprise, but he understands the role, he’s in good spots, he skates well enough that he’s able to close … both sides of the puck there’s been some positives there.”
Alex Wennberg won’t be moving to a wing and neither will Yanni Gourde. Nor will second-year pivot Matty Beniers, although if push comes to shove, he’d be the most likely candidate. Come to think of it, Wennberg could handle it, but why?
The reason it won’t come to that is because aside from improved face-off performance, Bellemare doesn’t offer a boost offensively for the Kraken. Yes, he’s a valuable penalty killer, but aside from the St. Louis game, the PK has done pretty well without him. It’s about striking a balance, and with all things considered, Beniers is the better option in the middle despite his slow season and his recent injury. Part of this is about continuing his development and building experience for the 21-year-old.
The Kraken showed remarkable chemistry and confidence during their nine-game winning streak without Bellemare in the line-up. He was injured in the game against the Dallas Stars right before the streak started, and although it’s unfair to call it “addition by subtraction” in this case, the Kraken were at their best with the ensuing line-up when healthy.
What the situation does provide is depth. It gives management and the coaches options up the middle, one of the most important elements of a hockey team’s build out. If Beniers struggles or is dinged up, they can plug in Bellemare.
Depth options and versatility are a bonus when one is entering the playoff stretch drive. It’s a grind that can takes its toll.
Remember, it was injuries to Beniers and Bellemare and a Gourde suspension that led to this scramble experiment in the first place. The need to move McCann to the middle turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Even young winger Tye Kartye was thrown into the middle. That would be considered an emergency provision and not likely to happen again anytime soon. (That separate conversation coming shortly)
So if number crunching, and all of the centers stay centers, it’s the Frenchman who sits.
The coaching staff will have plenty of time to think about it. After Tuesday night’s game in San Jose against the Sharks, one in which Bellemare will not be participating, the club has ten days off.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare skates alone Monday. (the player in white is a actual dummy)
— Seattle Kraken: Buying Into Coach Hakstol, Turbo Style