The Seattle Kraken made their first player transaction Wednesday, agreeing to a three-year, entry-level contract with free agent center Luke Henman.
The 21-year-old will participate in rookie camp with the Kraken, who will become the 32nd team in the NHL beginning next season. Henman is captain of Blainville-Boisbriand in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was a fourth-round pick (No. 96) of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2018 NHL Draft. It is the first NHL contract for Henman.
"I'm extremely excited and I can't wait to get to work," Henman said. "It's a huge honor and I couldn't be more excited."
Kraken director of amateur scouting Robert Kron was with the Hurricanes when they drafted Henman.
"So when we made the decision to move forward, you talk to your guys and try to get the name that they feel is the best to be the first person signed for the organization and, when we talked to everybody, Luke was the one we decided to move forward with," Kraken general manager Ron Francis said. "So we're excited to have him onboard."
Henman became an unrestricted free agent when Carolina decided not to sign him last year. Francis, who also worked previously for the Hurricanes but left before Henman was drafted, said they agreed to terms Monday morning and waited until Wednesday to announce it because Henman had games against Victoriaville in the QMJHL playoffs on Monday and Tuesday.
"To be honest, it was super hard to keep it from my friends and my teammates, but, I obviously, I knew it was going to be a big announcement for the organization so it was important to keep it quiet," Henman said. "But I had trouble sleeping the last few nights. I was just so excited. This is a dream come true for me and I'm extremely honored."
The Kraken joined the NHL on April 30 when they made the final payment of their $650 million expansion fee, allowing them to make trades ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 and sign free agents.
Francis said April 13 that signing college free agents would be challenging because they often want to play in the NHL and use the first year of their entry-level contract, but that the Kraken were looking at other leagues for players.
The Vegas Golden Knights signed Reid Duke with their first transaction prior to entering the NHL for the 2017-18 season. The 25-year-old forward has yet to make his NHL debut.
"I think Luke will be the first one to tell you he was pretty slight when he came into the [QMJHL] and it's taken a little bit of time to sort of put on some weight," Francis said. "I think when you look at his game, you're going to see a smart player, you're going to see a skilled player and the area he needs to work on, as he touched on a little bit, is getting stronger. I think he took some strides last summer when I believe he went from 160 to 172, started the season at 172. So he's moving in the right direction."
Henman said his disappointment when the Hurricanes decided not to sign him made him work harder.
"I thought I had a pretty good year my last year of eligibility with Carolina, but I put my nose down and went to work and came to camp this year with the right attitude and didn't have the 'poor me' mindset," he said. "I had the mindset that I have go out and prove people wrong and, like I said, it's just an extremely exciting day for me and my family and I couldn't be more thrilled."
Henman has played five seasons for Blainville-Boisbriand. He scored 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 32 games this season and has eight points (six goals, two assists) in the QMJHL playoffs. Blainville-Boisbriand trails Victoriaville 2-1 in the best-of-5 quarterfinals.
The native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has scored 214 points (63 goals, 151 assists) in 225 regular-season QMJHL games and 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 27 playoff games.
"Character-wise, being the captain of your junior team for multiple years is something we always like to see," Francis said. "His leadership qualities, we think, are outstanding. I know when I called his GM Pierre Cloutier to let him know we were signing Luke, he couldn't say enough good things about not only Luke the player but Luke the person, which is always good to hear when you're reaching out to those people on an individual."
The expansion draft, scheduled for July 21, will be under the same rules for the Kraken as the Golden Knights in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team excluding Vegas for a total of 30 (at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies) not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the expansion draft rules.