The Kraken announced its first player on Wednesday, marking a milestone day for both the franchise and 21-year-old center Luke Henman. As team captain and leading scorer, Henman is in the midst of an overtime-heavy playoff series for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Juniors Hockey League.
"I am super-excited and honored," said Henman Monday night by phone after scoring two game-tying goals earlier in the day, before an eventual overtime loss to Victoriaville knotting the second-round QMJHL series at one game apiece. "I have a belief in my game. My main focus will be to put in the work to get better."
Henman first realized agreeing to terms as the Kraken's first player and prospect was looking possible following his team's victory in the opening game of the series Saturday.
"I immediately face-timed my parents," Henman said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without my parents [Melanie and Anthony]. Then I called my siblings [two sisters, 25 and 15, and a brother, 17; all hockey players]. We had the nice overtime win and then I got the news. It was a pretty cool day."
Henman's two-way contract is a standard National Hockey League three-year, entry-level contract with salaries pre-determined for both the American Hockey League and NHL depending on Henman's progress as a prospect in the Kraken's development system.
"Our scouts have been watching players all year," said Ron Francis, Kraken general manager. "In this case, [scout] Mike Dawson has been a strong supporter for Luke. Robert Kron [director of amateur scouting] and Tony McDonald [scouting advisor] like him too.
"Luke has put up the numbers in the 'Q' and he is team captain. He has solid character. We do think he needs to get stronger. We are excited to sign him as our first player."
Henman has played his last five seasons in the QMJHL, one of the world's best amateur leagues which has produced stars such as Pittsburgh's three-time Stanley Cup-winning captain, Sidney Crosby; Boston's Cup champ captain Patrice Bergeron and two of the game's biggest scoring stars, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, among dozens of other active players.
Growing up in Cow Bay outside Halifax, NS, Henman didn't have to look far for role models on the ice. Crosby grew up 10 minutes away in Cole Harbor. MacKinnon is another Halifax-born star who Henman followed closely seasons before the Avalanche star made his NHL debut.
Henman was six-foot with his weight in the 140s for his QMJHL rookie season as a 16-year-old. He started this season, his second as captain, at 172, gaining 10 pounds from the previous season.
"He's still a little bit light," said Francis. "But he thinks the game well and has the skating and hockey skills we like when scouting players."
In his first year as captain during the 2019-20 season, Henman set career highs in all offensive categories (25 goals, 49 assists, 74 points in 63 games) while leading his team to first place in the West Division. The QMJHL's 2020 postseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic but Henman appears to be making up for it in this year's playoffs.
After Tuesday's 6-4 loss, Henman has six goals and two assists in seven games this postseason. Victoriaville leads Henman's Blainville-Boisbriand two games to one in the playoff series.
He won an impressive 57.1 percent of faceoffs Monday (taking twice more faceoffs than any teammate) and his four shots on goal included three that hockey analytics experts categorize as "dangerous shots."
"We are really, really fortunate to be playing hockey in a playoff series right now-there are many players in North America and the world who would like to be in this position," said Henman, referring to the pandemic shutting down entire seasons and/or postseasons for many leagues.
Henman will attend Seattle's first rookie camp leading into the club's inaugural training camp at the Kraken Training Center later this year. Specific dates and details are pending league scheduling decisions. Like all players invited, Henman will have a chance to make the team in camp. Another first professional season option would be playing in the American Hockey League as a Kraken prospect.
"I will be working to get bigger and stronger," said Henman, who looks forward to working with the Kraken training and nutrition staff. "My goal every summer is to gain 10 pounds."
The intention of getting bigger and stronger is less about bulk and more about empowering a player like Henman to protect the puck more effectively on offensive rushes, win "stick-battles" and "create body position on faceoffs."
Henman was selected in the fourth round (96th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis was no longer GM - though no one can deny this season's high-powered Carolina roster is bursting with players Francis drafted, signed or acquired in trades.
But Dawson, Kron and McDonald were still with the franchise. The scouts continue to like what they see on the ice and Henman is grateful.
"I can't thank them enough for believing in me," said Henman. "Now it's up to me to prove I belong."