The Seattle Kraken surprised many by passing on several formidable NHL talents in favor of unproven youngsters at this year’s expansion draft. There weren’t as many eye-popping options for the Vegas Golden Knights when they selected their team, but they placed a similar emphasis on youth. After a successful first season that culminated in a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Golden Knights have become one of the top teams in the NHL. In their first four seasons in the league, they have made the playoffs each year and made the Conference Finals three times.
The Kraken would be very pleased with similar results over their first few seasons. Before they can have success, though, players will need to step into larger roles like the Vegas selections did in their first season. One player who burst on the scene for the Vegas Golden Knights was center William Karlsson, selected from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Prior to his selection, Karlsson appeared in just 183 games over three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Blue Jackets. The best of those three seasons saw the Swede produce just 6 goals and 25 points in 81 games. The previous season saw Karlsson produce a then-best 9 goals in 81 games.
After getting situated in Sin City, Karlsson emerged as Vegas’ best option for the first-line center role, playing between former Florida Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. The trio became the go-to line for the Golden Knights and were key to their deep playoff runs in each season. Karlsson’s first season with his new linemates saw him put up 43 goals and 78 points in 82 games, absolutely obliterating his previous best marks. He scored another 24 goals and 56 points the year after, and was on pace for at least 19 goals and 57 points over each of the last two shortened campaigns.
The leading candidate to fill the role of Karlsson with the Kraken is Morgan Geekie. While Ryan Donato’s career stats heading into this season are eerily similar to Karlsson’s when he was selected by Vegas, Geekie has a higher ceiling and a more concrete role heading into Seattle’s inaugural season. At 23 years of age, Geekie has appeared in just 38 NHL games, all with the Carolina Hurricanes. He has, however, accumulated a ton of experience in both the AHL and WHL over the past six years. He logged over 200 games and over 200 points with the Tri-City Americans over parts of five seasons before debuting in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. After nearly being a point-per-game player in juniors, Geekie recorded 93 points in 130 combined games with the Checkers and Chicago Wolves over the last 3 seasons.
Geekie only has one sizeable stint in the NHL, playing in 36 games with the Hurricanes during the shortened 2020-21 campaign. He scored 3 goals and added 6 assists for a total of 9 points, but has the potential for much more in his new home. Carolina boasted one of the NHL’s deepest forward groups a season ago, and Geekie now moves from the offensively threatening Canes to the defensively stout Kraken. Seattle’s top line looks to be all but locked in, but every other role on the team looks up for grabs. In training camp, Geekie has assumed a top-nine role playing with NHL veteran winger Joonas Donskoi alongside Donato, who the Kraken signed to a low-risk deal in free agency.
While Geekie doesn’t have the sample size Karlsson did before he was selected in the draft, Geekie should have every opportunity to thrive in Seattle. Playing with Donskoi should give him plenty of chances to add to his statsheet, and the team seems to be impressed with what he’s shown to this point. After receiving some criticism for passing on defenseman Jake Bean from Carolina in the expansion draft, Kraken management may look like a bunch of geniuses if this pick lives up to its potential.