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Geoff Baker: How Justin Schultz can help the Kraken's new-look power play

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

Seeing new Kraken defenseman Justin Schultz out running the power play in the team's preseason opener shouldn't really have surprised.

Coach Dave Hakstol clearly used Monday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers to deploy newer faces in envisioned roles. Holdovers such as Yanni Gourde, Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Jared McCann and Vince Dunn were known commodities and could wait until Tuesday, unlike Schultz and others Hakstol is still evaluating.

By using more newcomers in the opener, including forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand, Andre Burakovsky and rookie Matty Beniers, Hakstol will have additional time to make corrections or changes before the regular season begins Oct. 12 in Anaheim, California.

There are few areas more important than the power play, for which Hakstol needs to get ideas aligned with reality. The aforementioned Bjorkstrand, Burakovsky and Beniers — the "Killer B's," if you will — were part of Monday night's main power-play unit, so Hakstol got a good look at all in five-on-five and man-advantage situations.

Sure, the Kraken weren't great at penalty killing, either, last season. But that group at least had some positive stretches. The fizzling power play was a seasonlong ordeal that unsurprisingly ran in concert with a poor overall offensive showing.

The Kraken were fourth-worst in power-play proficiency at 14.55% compared with the NHL average of 20.61% and fourth-worst in overall goals with 213. But they were fifth-worst in even-strength goals with 152, so a quick fix for overall offensive output would be to capitalize more with the man advantage.

 

And if you're going to fix a power play, the guy running it needs to be at the top of his game. That's where the "quarterback" term gets applied to the lone defenseman on the typical power-play unit — one who sits atop the 1-3-1 formation and guides play depending on how opposing penalty killers react in front of him.

You need a defenseman boasting offensive skills and quick thinking. Last season the Kraken used captain Mark Giordano as the primary power-play quarterback until he was traded in March, and the role fell into Dunn's lap almost by default.

Dunn was the only other Kraken defender with above-average offensive ability, one reason the team struggled at times to quickly exit the zone and pounce on opponents' turnovers. And when the Kraken went looking this summer for another defenseman in free agency, the 32-year-old Schultz loomed as a potentially undervalued commodity because of power-play ability never fully utilized.

"There's a great opportunity here," Schultz said before Monday's opener. "A lot of young, talented players. Very skilled."

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