By Raymond V. Murphy
On the heels of their first-ever actual game, Seattle Kraken fans are beginning to formulate some ideas concerning the type of team the city’s NHL expansion club will put on the ice this season.
While Kraken fans own bragging rights for at least one day following a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Spokane, pre-season games exist primarily for coaches to make roster decisions (and while the Kraken suited up most of their front-line players Vancouver didn’t bring many regular players to Western Washington).
Seattle plays four more exhibitions before opening the regular season in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights, Oct. 12. Here’s a look at some previously unheralded players who could make their mark in the Emerald City.
Ryan Donato could be a player to watch
When the Golden Knights made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals in their first year of existence they were bolstered by performances from many unexpected sources. Players like Alex Tuch and William Karlsson became frontline players in Sin City after being cast aside by other franchises. The Kraken could have similar players. In the Spokane opener and an intra-squad game the previous day, Ryan Donato and Morgan Geekie were the two best forwards on the Kraken.
Donato’s not a total unknown to rabid hockey followers, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (the hockey equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) playing for his dad Ted Donato at Harvard. He also was a top scorer on the US Olympic Hockey Team in 2018. A second-round draft pick, Donato broke into the NHL with his hometown team – the Boston Bruins – scoring a goal in his second NHL shift. He added two assists in that game and chalked up another goal in his second NHL game.
However, consistency has sometimes alluded Donato. He was eventually sent back down to the AHL Providence Bruins (whose head coach Jay Leach is a Kraken assistant). After being traded to Minnesota the next season – for Charlie Coyle who was one of the Wild’s best players – Donato tallied an overtime game winner in his first home game. But he eventually spent much of the season with the Iowa Wild farm team.
Donato was traded to San Jose last season and was the eighth leading scorer on the Sharks with 6 goals and 7 assists in the abbreviated season. He became the final free-agent Kraken signing heading into training camp inking a one-year $750,000 deal. “He’ll provide scoring depth,’’ said general manager Ron Francis about the signing.
Donato saw time on the power play against Vancouver as a fourth forward manning the right point. Behind the Canucks’ net, Jordan Eberle slid a pass across to Donato in the right circle who received the puck and in one motion (called a `one-timer’ in hockey) fired one home.
Morgan Geekie takes advantage
Hockey, as in life, is sometimes about capitalizing on an opportunity. With a couple of centers ailing – Yanni Gourde and Colin Blackwell – Geekie was placed on a line with Donato and veteran Joonas Donskoi the first day of training camp. In the Kraken scrimmage, Geekie was the unofficial `number one star of the game’ with two goals. Donato also scored in the contest.
“(Geekie and Donato) play similar games,’’ said coach Dave Hakstol in his post-scrimmage press conference. “They feed off each other.’’
Geekie added two more goals against Vancouver in the third period breaking a 3-3 tie. His slapper from in front of the net gave Seattle a 4-3 lead. Then Geekie scored the prettiest goal of the night, winning the faceoff and firing into the net for an unassisted goal.
Not a bad start, especially since some hockey followers questioned the Kraken selecting Geekie off the Carolina Hurricanes roster over defensemen Jake Bean. However, Seattle was working on signing unrestricted free agent defensemen – Jamie Olesiak and Adam Larsson. The Kraken still could have drafted defenseman like Bean and Washington’s Brendan Dillon and traded them for draft choices but Francis showed a preference for drafting young players, like Geekie, who could play in Seattle this season.
Geekie has previously played in Washington state, spending three seasons with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. He was a third-round pick (67th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL entry draft. Geekie helped lead the Charlotte Checkers to the American Hockey League championship in 2019. And Geekie did his linemate Donato one better – he scored two goals in his first NHL game.
When the Kraken participated in the expansion draft last July it appeared they were putting together a defensive-oriented squad. But young players such as Geekie (23), Donato (25) appear like they’ll bring some exciting offense to the team.