While all eyes will be on which player the Kraken select at No. 8 in the upcoming NHL Draft, for Kraken scouts Jeff Crisp, Mike Dawson and Tom O’Connor, that isn’t the half of it. The team’s “crossover” amateur scouts are charged with deep-diving on the “top half” or first three rounds of the draft, which unfolds first-rounders on June 28 and rolls the second through seventh rounds on June 29.

Along with weighing in on who joins Seattle at No. 8, the team’s crossover scouts are squarely focused on second- and third-round picks, of which, barring any trades, the Kraken have two in each round. The extra second-rounder came via this spring’s swap of center Alex Wennberg to the New York Rangers, while the additional third-rounder is the final asset in GM Ron Francis’ trade with Toronto, receiving three picks in exchange for defenseman Mark Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell.

During late May’s amateur scouting meetings at Kraken Community Iceplex, the hockey operations group ranked a list of nearly 200 prospects over four days of open deliberation (“don’t tell us what you think we want to hear, tell us what you think,” said Francis to open the meetings). Crisp, Dawson, O’Connor and European scout Pelle Eklund (who takes on some crossover duties on that continent) stayed on an extra day to refine that list with Francis, Kraken assistant GMs and director of amateur scouting Robert Kron ahead of the team being on the clock numerous times in Vegas in late June.

Crossing Over to ‘Compare’ and ‘Collaborate’

By design, Crisp, Dawson and O’Connor have seen all of the higher-ranked players on the list in person as “crossover” scouts. Dawson says the job title is “about travel, crossing over to other territories and countries” to evaluate players identified by area scouts as potential top three-round picks in the draft. Crisp said it is not about checking the work or recommendations of the area scouts but being in a position to provide more direct comparisons of one player versus another.

“The area scouts give us an idea what they think the player is all about,” said Dawson, who was head amateur scout for North America over seven seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before joining the Kraken in the fall of 2020. “We go in and look for that, but also do our own assessment. We have the benefit of seeing all the players on our list in all of the different leagues. We have that reference point of being able to compare what a guy is doing in this league versus a guy in a different one.”

Crisp, who has been an NHL scout for 25 years for Calgary, Anaheim, Buffalo and now Seattle, said the crossover role differs based on the season’s timeline but always considers the must-haves of skating ability and high hockey IQ espoused by Francis and director of amateur scouting Robert Kron.

“The second half of the year, you might be dialed in on directly comparing one player versus another,” said Crisp. “We all agree he's a good skater. Maybe now we’re dialing in on a hockey sense. Mike or I will go with the area scout and say, ‘let's really watch how many decisions are good decisions or bad. You focus on that one component. For the most part, we are collaborating. This is what you saw four times; this is what I saw three times. What does it mean overall [on the team’s draft board rankings].”

So Far, So Much Potential in Second and Third Rounds

In the franchise’s first three NHL draft classes, the Kraken hockey operations group has made eight second-round picks (four in 2022 via trades and three more last summer) and four third-round selections (the extra one in 2022). That’s a dozen total, or twice the allotted six.

No Kraken staffer is going to claim full-fledged success with those picks because the ultimate goal is drafting and developing NHL contributors who appear in a significant number of games and seasons for the Kraken. Nonetheless, there are lots of positives to ponder for Seattle fans, such as 2021 second-rounder Ryker Evans (35th overall) appearing in 36 NHL games this past season playing with toughness and poise in all zones.

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Third-rounder Ryan Winterton was called up for nine NHL games, earning high marks from veteran players. Both Evans and Winterton have key roles with AHL Coachella Valley in the ongoing playoffs. Evans is playing top D-pair (which he did at times for the Kraken, filling in for the injured Vince Dunn alongside alternate captain Adam Larsson). Winterton, who scored 22 goals during the AHL regular season, has grown into one of coach Dan Bylsma’s most trusted penalty killers as a first-year pro.

Other high points: 2022 second-rounder Jagger Firkus (35th overall) led all scorers in the three-league Canadian Hockey League this season and is currently a big reason why his Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw club is playing Friday night with a chance to play for the CHL’s coveted Memorial Cup Saturday night. Fellow 2022 second-round pick David Goyette (61st) led the Ontario Hockey League in regular-season scoring, while another 2022 pick (49th), Jani Nyman, broke a 40-year-old record for most goals scored by a U20 player in Liiga, Finland’s top pro league.

Nyman has earned his way into the Firebirds lineup since joining the AHL squad’s practices, scoring two goals (one a game-winner) in five postseason games. Fellow Finn Niklas Kokko (2022 second round, 58th overall) is also in Coachella Valley, turning heads among players and coaches in on-ice workouts after leading his Pelicans squad to the Liiga final as a 20-year-old.

Eyeing the ‘Ultimate Goal’

As for 2023 picks, second-rounder Carson Rehkopf enjoyed a breakout season, scoring 52 goals for OHL Kitchener during the regular season, while fellow second-round choice Oscar Fisker Molgaard impressed coaches and scouts playing for Denmark in the recently completed IIHF Men’s World Championship. There is undeniable progress for the various Kraken prospects picked in the “top half” of recent drafts, but the supreme hockey goal is on everyone’s mind in those amateur scouting meetings.

“Each draft and each decision that we make towards building the team gets our small fingerprints,” said Crisp. “Then you want more of those [draft decisions] to add when you play for the Stanley Cup. The ultimate goal is to win the Cup. We're watching, they are progressing. We can be proud of their progression. But until our picks get to the NHL and start really impacting it, that's when we can call a draft a real success.”

Getting Ahead of Curve for Rising Prospects

For Crisp, Dawson, O’Connor, Eklund and all of the area scouts, there is a clear intention to not only win the Cup but to identify players with the upside to outperform their draft choice positions. Exceeding expectations can begin even in juniors, such as Rehkopf and fifth-rounder Jacob Melanson (in 2022-23) busting past the 50-goal mark the season after getting drafted by Seattle.

“We were excited to get Rehkopf last year in the second round,” said Dawson. “There wasn't anybody in our room who thought he was gonna score 50 goals this year and have the breakout year that he did. We thought he would continue to improve and be a good player. It's just a wildcard from one year to the next. We try to be humble and not get too excited before they actually deliver at the NHL level.”

Winterton is an example of selecting a player for upside, while other NHL clubs were less enthused at the early third-round slot in 2021. Winterton is one of just two 2021 third-rounders who have appeared in NHL games. Thirty-eight draft choices from that summer have appeared in NHL games: 20 from round one, 11 second-rounders, two in the third, three in the fourth round and two in the fifth round.

Winterton was one of the youngest players selected over the two days of the 2021 draft. He was just 11 days shy of being too young to be drafted that summer.

“Ryan was higher on our list [than other NHL teams]," said Francis during a media session after the inaugural draft for the Kraken.

The first Kraken draft is maturing with promise, giving reason for fans to be excited about the fourth draft class about to materialize in late June. Second-rounder Evans is 12th overall in games played among the 2021 draft class, higher than 11 players picked in the first round. Matty Beniers, picked second overall in that draft, won the Calder Trophy as 2022 Rookie of the Year and ranks third in games played despite playing most of the 2021-22 season with NCAA Michigan.

Plus, fourth-rounder Ville Ottavainen was second among all Coachella Valley defensemen in assists (26) while playing reliably in all zones in top-three pairings, and fifth-rounder Melanson has been a difference-maker in the AHL squad’s second half of the regular season and current playoffs.

“Jacob has played better and better and better since the second half of the regular season,” said Dan Bylsma, the Kraken’s new head coach with some unfinished business leading the Firebirds in the ongoing AHL Western Conference final. “He brings physicality and the energy every night – every night. Now it's in the playoffs, and in the most difficult time, he’s showing up on the score sheet.”

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