Yanni Gourde tops Kraken’s list of several possible 20-goal scorers – and possibly more once released from shoulder pain
Few realized as new Kraken center Yanni Gourde punched and rushed to another Stanley Cup championship this summer that the pain in his left shoulder had become too great to ignore.
The 5-foot-9, 173-pound spark plug had done his best over the past two seasons to cover up the throbbing pains under a relentless goal attack as his Tampa Bay Lightning won two titles. But by the time Gourde and his Quebec native teammates wrapped up their second straight celebration boat parade down Tampa’s Hillsborough River, he needed the help of a surgeon to play another shift.
“It has bothered me for over 18 months,” said Gourde, 29, one of the Kraken’s most prominent players in last month’s expansion draft this week. “There are a lot of things in that shoulder that haven’t worked well and it was all caused by a tear in the labrum.”
This comment, from a player whose relentless style characterizes what the Kraken aspires to be, captured both the risk and the potential the team had anticipated by selecting Gourde within days of his surgery. Kraken general manager Ron Francis knew Gourde would be out for around four months and would likely need until December to look like the devastating third-line center who scored 17 goals in a 56-year regular season. matches shortened by the pandemic, then six more in 23 playoff contests.
But Francis also knew that Gourde’s 23 combined goals in that 79-game streak – which almost exactly equates to a non-pandemic NHL regular season schedule – were achieved under physical duress. And that, in healthier times, the former Junior League scoring champion had 25 goals as a Lightning rookie in 2017-18, making it easy to envision similar returns playing in the first two rows. of the Kraken – maybe where Gourde even gets that missing 30. goal man on a shortlist of proven top scorers.
Gourde wants to avoid putting “too much pressure on myself”, but is admittedly excited about the increased opportunities after four seasons with a star-studded Lightning team offering few openings beyond their last two lines. Years ago, he’d seen his good friend Jonathan Marchessault rise from the Lightning’s fringe stadium to a 30-goal scorer with Florida, then a real star with the expansion of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s pretty nice to know that a team wants you so badly when there were a lot of very talented people who weren’t protected,” Gourde said of the Kraken.
Despite all concerns about the Kraken’s lack of elite scorers, he’s quietly put together a collection of potential 20-goal scorers that could rival most teams in the playoffs. There is an argument that the roster contains up to nine potential 20-goal men between Gourde, Jordan Eberle, Alex Wennberg, Jaden Schwartz, Joonas Donskoi, Calle Jarnkrok, Jared McCann, Colin Blackwell and Mason Appleton.
Not all will succeed, of course, and Gourde is already missing a month or two, making his goal harder to achieve. As the Kraken are hopeful that a healthy Schwartz bounces back from an oblique injury last season, and Wennberg, Appleton and Blackwell progress with additional responsibilities, a regression is also possible, if not likely, for some players.
The last NHL team with nine 20-goal scorers was the Washington Capitals in 1992-93, and hockey has changed a lot since then. Better goalkeepers, better competitive balance, fewer power play and more blocked shots have helped make a 20-goal season as difficult as 30 before.
So if the Kraken even manages four or five 20-goal scorers, the offense would have a solid foundation to compete for a playoff berth.
In 2018-19, the last full NHL season unmodified by COVID-19, only two of 16 playoff teams had more than five 20-goal scorers. Toronto and Washington had seven each, while seven teams had five, three had four, and four teams had just three 20-goal men.
One great thing that seems to separate these clubs from the Kraken playoffs is that all but two – Vegas and the New York Islanders – had at least one elite 30-goal man to ignite the offense. Nine of the playoff teams had at least a 35-goal scorer, while five had a 40-goal man.
For now, however, as the Kraken seek an additional offense with around $ 16 million in salary cap space, they could already have as many men at 20 goals as the top teams in the NHL. After all, Gourde, Eberle and Donskoi, have just scored 20 or more actual goals in the last campaign in a game span, including the playoffs, which is less than the usual list of 82 games in the regular season.
Wennberg has scored 17 goals for Florida in the shortened regular season and another in the playoffs and it is hoped he will turn out to be upside down in an expanded attacking role in the “first six”. And Schwartz already has four 20-goal campaigns, most recently two seasons ago when he scored 22 for St. Louis.
Jarnkrok, Blackwell, McCann and Appleton were all just above or slightly below a 20-goal pace during the reduced 56-game schedule. And while that won’t automatically translate into an actual 20-goal season now – the 82-game grind potentially slowing down that scoring rate – it’s possible that one or more will.
The most famous NHL team to fly over a wave of 20 men’s goals was the Boston Bruins in 1977-78, with a record 11 such players. Peter McNabb has scored 44 goals, the team’s top, but no one else has reached 30 as coach Don Cherry’s Lunch Pail Gang, made up of hardworking and diligent hunting specialists, led the Montreal Canadiens to six games in the Cup final before retiring.
These days, the winning NHL playoff teams work as tirelessly as Cherry’s. The Kraken are heavily focused on getting two-way defensive play and high-energy forward control of their attackers while waiting to see if a more elite level scorer emerges in the open market or within the. group.
“They are very good players both ways,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said of his forward squad. “They are responsible with and without the puck. But there are skills and abilities there and it all depends on how hard they play. “
Gourde actually led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring his last season with Victoriaville. But undersized, he was not drafted by NHL teams and fought for years in the minors before his energetic and disruptive style took hold with the Lightning.
“There were definitely setbacks, times when it was harder than others,” said Gourde. “But I kept fighting and I kept pushing. I wanted more all the time. ”
When Gourde finally returns to the ice, the Kraken will see how much more he can give them than he has already produced. And if the gap between this team and the playoff-level infractions might actually be smaller than some think.