Kraken make selections at expansion, entry drafts, announce home-opener

Seattle will host its first home game Oct. 23

There is more work to be done, but the Seattle Kraken laid the foundation for the present and the future this past week.

After taking part in the NHL Expansion Draft and the regular NHL Entry Draft, Seattle now has a roster full of experienced professional players and the beginnings of a prospect pipeline.

But with free agency around the corner, and still several months before the beginning of the season, general manager Ron Francis has plenty of time to use his team’s ample cap space to sign more players and make trades with salary cap-strapped teams.

What must have been a week without sleep for Francis and his front office began with the Expansion Draft last Wednesday, which took place in front of a couple thousand supporters on a picture-perfect day at GasWorks Park in Seattle. The boats floating on South Lake Union with the city’s skyline and the Space Needle in the background provided a scenic backdrop for a historic moment in Seattle sports.

Mixed in to the relatively straight-forward process of announcing the picks were some celebrity presenters, including Seattle sports stars Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Wagner and Sue Bird, along with rapper Macklemore and the folks at the Pike Place Fish Market. Even an aquatic friend helped make a pick as Licorice, an octopus as the Seattle Aquarium, presented the team’s choice from the Detroit Red Wings, Dennis Cholowski.

The Kraken didn’t take too many big names — premium talent is hard to come by in the expansion draft — and those who were available were either impending free agents, such as Colorado Avalanche star Gabriel Landeskog, or older players whose best days are likely behind them.

However, they were able to nab a pair of strong up-and-coming goaltenders in Chris Dreidger and Vitek Vanecek, and have several solid defenders in Jamie Oleksiak, Vince Dunn, Adam Larsson and Mark Giordano; the latter is a good candidate to become the franchise’s first captain.

Up front, there are some skilled offensive players, including Jordan Eberle, Joonas Donskoi, Yanni Gourde, Mason Appleton and Jared McCann, though scoring will still likely be a priority for the Kraken as they prepare for free agency.

“We are proud to announce our expansion draft picks,” Francis said. “It has been a crazy week, and we still have work to do, but we are building a roster of players who will play with passion and determination and be proud to wear the Kraken jersey.”

The team also announced its first home game at Climate Pledge Arena as the NHL released its schedule for 2021-22. The Kraken will open with five road games, beginning Oct. 17 at Las Vegas. They will head on to Nashville, Columbus, Philadelphia and New Jersey before getting three days off in advance of their home-opener, Oct. 23, against the Vancouver Canucks. Seattle will have a four-game homestand to finish out October. They will have two six-game homestands during the regular season, one in November and the other in January.

Seattle’s three preseason home games will be at three rinks around Washington: ShoWare Center in Kent, Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett and Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

The work continued on Friday as Seattle took part in the regular entry draft and made Matthew Beniers their first pick.

Beniers, a native of Massachusetts, made a splash in his freshman season on a stacked University of Michigan team, scoring 24 points in 24 games. He finished third on the team in scoring and fourth among NCAA freshmen, but he is even better known for his complete, two-way game, high energy, compete level and work ethic. Beniers was named Michigan’s Rookie of the Year, no small feat for a team that featured defenseman Owen Power, who went ahead of him to Buffalo in the entry draft, and Kent Johnson, a human highlight reel picked fifth by Columbus.

“We’re extremely excited to get Matty,” said Robert Kron, director of amateur scouting. “He’s a great hockey player and an amazing human being. On top of his hockey skills, Matty plays hard every shift, never stops.”

Seattle made six more picks in the seven-round draft, taking defenseman Ryker Evans in the second round, forward Ryan Winterton in the third, defenseman Ville Ottavainen in the fourth, forward Jacob Melanson in the fifth, goaltender Semyon Vyazvoi in the sixth and Justin Janicke in the seventh.