As the Seattle Kraken prepare for their first draft in 2021, general manager Ron Francis announced a dozen scouting hires Friday to fortify the effort. The amateur scouts join the franchise with collective decades of impressive NHL experience, deep hockey knowledge, successful draft decisions and voluminous contacts among the coaches who work with prospects every day of their seasons.
"We are in a unique situation scouting this season with some leagues beginning play and others still pending," says Francis. "We feel we hired key people with deep experience evaluating prospects and we are spread out geographically to see as many players as possible in North America and Europe."
Leading the amateur scouting hunt will be Robert Kron, who played a dozen seasons in the NHL with Vancouver, Carolina and Columbus before starting a second hockey career as a scout with Carolina. He and Francis know each other as Hurricanes teammates (two seasons together in Carolina) and front office colleagues (four NHL drafts when Francis was Carolina GM).
"I am thrilled to join the Kraken," says Kron. "We will be developing a wealth of knowledge about the prospects for the draft on the amateur side. We will delegate responsibilities across our experienced and talented staff. Everybody's voice will be heard."
Those voices include several with NHL credentials: Mike Dawson, ex-head North American amateur scout for Carolina; Darren Yopyk, former co-director of amateur scouting with Minnesota; Jeff Crisp, a 21-year NHL scout and assistant director of amateur scouting departing from Buffalo; Tom O'Connor, ex-Buffalo scout; and Tony MacDonald, who has 27 seasons of NHL scouting experience with the Los Angeles Kings, Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes.
Joining the scouting work are Trevor Stienburg, who recently resigned as head coach of St. Mary's University (Halifax, NS) after an illustrious 23-year run, and Thomas Plante, a scout the last three seasons for Sioux City Musketeers, a franchise in the top-flight amateur United States Hockey League.
There's more: The Kraken are adding four European scouts to the staff, vital hires considering more than 30 percent of NHLers were born and played their amateur hockey in Europe and, one example, a record 43 percent of the players selected in the 2020 NHL Draft were Europeans. To bolster scouting on that continent, Francis announced Pelle Eklund, Marcus Fingal, Aleksandr Plyushev and Sasu Hovi as European scouts.
If Eklund's name sounds familiar, bingo. He played nine NHL seasons for Philadelphia and Dallas, then five more in his native Sweden. He starred for the Philly Flyers in the 1987 Stanley Cup Final and was MVP of the top Swedish league during his playing days there. He has scouted for both the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers. Fingal comes to the Seattle after two seasons with Buffalo Sabres and four years as a scout with a top Swedish juniors team. Plyushev debuted in Russia's top pro league (now called KHL) as a 15-year-old and played on a world championship U18 team before returning to successful seasons in the Russian pro league,. Hovi was professional goalie over six seasons in the elite league in his native Finland, then five more seasons with teams in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.
Kron's last role was officially director of European scouting for Carolina, so he is an ideal leader for the Euro group. But it is important to note Kron worked across all departments in Carolina and was deeply involved with scouting (working alongside Tony MacDonald during the entire tenure, plus Francis and Dawson for several seasons). Kron and MacDonald were comparing lists and player evaluations for four drafts that produced a bevy of NHL performers, including Sebastian Aho, Haydn Fleury, Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele, Noah Hanifin, Martin Necas, Morgan Geekie and a half dozen. Oh, and add Jake Bean, 22, who has appeared in two NHL games but was named top defenseman in the American Hockey League last season.
Like Francis, Kron acknowledges the COVID-19 presents some scouting challenges since some leagues (Europe, Quebec juniors) have started and other have plans to be on the ice later this year. Kron's plan is for the scouting staff to "cover as many players across the world" as feasible during the first half of the season's play, then focus more on the group of prospects scouts deem as best choices for the Kraken.
"Players come at you [by the way they play the game]," says Kron, when asked if scouts target particular players during a season's early discovery period. "They get your attention with their different attributes and also how they do the little things, how they approach the negatives and positives of a game or shift. We have our running lists and a good idea about who's out there.
"We look at rosters for who is draft-eligible for the first time, but also keep an eye on late-bloomers. You see cases every year in which a young player not drafted [as an 18-year-old] matures physically and mentally to be a fairly high pick the following season."
Kron certainly knows the game from a player's point of view. He was a star youngster in what was then Czechoslovakia, drafted in the fifth round (88th overall) in the 1985 NHL Draft but not making the Vancouver roster until the 1990-91 season because leaving earlier (before the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe changed dramatically) would have mean defecting from his Czech Army team, his family and his country. Unlike today's European prospects, who can view NHL games on their phones and laptops and national telecasts, Kron arrived in Vancouver knowing much less about North American culture.
"It's almost hard to believe myself that I had to sneak out of our barracks during tournament to meet with NHL management," Kron says. "My kids [three adult children] look at me like I'm crazy when I talk about it."
Kron remembers fondly his first general manager, Vancouver's Brian Burke, who made the moving across waters more accommodating, even Burke did trade Kron to Hartford at the NHL Trade Deadline after two-plus seasons: "It turned out to be the best thing for me. I played with a broken my first year. Hartford was a fresh start."
Playing in Hartford included a franchise move to North Carolina to play in a first-time NHL market that didn't know hockey well. Kron also played two seasons with Ron Francis when the Kraken GM signed for the 1998-99 season. Then after the 1999-2000 season, Kron was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. The Kraken now represent his third brand-new NHL market experience.
"It's the most exciting one for me," says Kron. "Just hearing all that is going on with the team and Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken Training Center, I'm really looking forward to all of it. Seattle is a great city and will be a great hockey town."