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  1. NHL

NHL: Seattle Kraken season preview

The Seattle Kraken had a rocky inaugural season in the NHL finishing eighth in the Pacific Division with a 27-49-6 record, failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A productive off-season has seen hopes raised for a far more competitive 2022/23, with the highlight being the signing of Stanley Cup Champion Andre Burakovsky from the Colorado Avalanche and the selection of highly-rated Canadian Shane Wright at fourth overall in the NHL draft.

Burakovsky headlines additions

The 27-year-old forward Burakovsky headlines several smart additions by Kraken General Manager Ron Francis this off-season.

The 6'3" winger joins on the back of a career season with the Avalanche during which he scored 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) in 80 regular season games and eight points (three goals, five assists) on Colorado's run to the cup in the playoffs.

In 519 career regular season games with the Avalanche and Washington Capitals, Burakovsky has 295 points (123 goals, 172 assists) and 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 93 playoff appearances.

Burakovsky along with Oliver Bjorkstrand (acquired in a trade with Columbus Blue Jackets) will significantly help a Kraken offence that was tied for 28th in the NHL with 2.60 average goals per-game and 29th on the powerplay at 14.6 percent.

The 27-year-old Bjorkstrand also had a career best with the Blue Jackets last season scoring 57 points (28 goals, 29 assists). In 382 regular season games, all with Columbus, the Dane has 234 points (111 goals, 123 assists).

Draft impact

Centreman Wright was long projected to be the first overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft, but to the Kraken's delight he was passed on by three teams, falling into their laps at four.

The 18-year-old scored 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games as Captain of the Kingston Frontenacs of the junior OHL last season and has been signed to a three-year entry level deal by the Kraken.

Wright is said to have impressed coach Dave Hakstol during training camp but it remains to be seen whether he will be part of the opening night roster.

A dead cert for that is another centre Matty Berniers who was the second overall pick in 2021. The 19-year-old impressed in the final 10 games of last season and elevated the Kraken's offence by scoring nine points (three goals, six assists).

Seattle averaged 2.90 goals per-game and converted at 17.2 percent on the powerplay with Beniers in the line-up, up from 2.56 goals per-game and 14.1 percent on the powerplay in the first 72 games without him.

Tanev return

Seattle's offence will also be bolstered by the return of 30-year-old Brandon Tanev who suffered a season ending injury in December when he sat third on the team for goals (nine), also with six assists in 30 games.

Praised for his two-way game, the 6'0" winger quickly became a fan favourite with the Kraken, not least for his wacky expressions during the team's photo shoot.

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Grubauer aiming to bounce back

After last summer's expansion draft, it was felt the Kraken would be stronger defensively than offensively, and that proved right, but they were let down by well-below average goaltending from usually reliable Phillipp Grubauer.

Seattle were fifth-best in the NHL for expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength, but their average of 3.48 goals conceded per-game was third worse in the league. Grubauer ranked dead last of all netminders in goals saved above expected (31.5).

A better offence will take the pressure off Grubauer but for the Kraken to improve, the 30-year-old must have a strong bounce-back campaign.

Grubauer was selected from the Avalanche in the expansion draft and went 18-31-5 in 55 games last season. His .889 save percentage was the worst of his 10 NHL seasons with the Avalanche and Capitals.

Backup Chris Driedger also struggled going 9-14-1 with a .899 save percentage and he will miss the first three months of the season after undergoing knee surgery.

Martin Jones, 30, will begin the season partnering Grubauer after signing with the Kraken from Philadelphia Flyers where he went 12-18-3 with a .900 save-percentage last season.

Hakstol future

Coach Hakstol is in his second NHL coaching job with the Kraken and questions marks have been raised about whether he is the right fit to lead them forward.

Previously, he went 134-101-42 with the Philadelphia Flyers (2015-18) and led them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice, losing both times at the first-round stage in 2016 and 2018.

He was criticised for not being able to get the best out of the Flyers roster and similar accusations have been made on his impact so far with the Kraken.

He'll likely enjoy a lot more leeway with Seattle, given they are in their infancy as a franchise, but to appease his doubters, the 54-year-old needs to quickly make the Kraken a competitive team in one of the more favourable divisions.

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