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Round One Preview: Blueline Battle

Seattle’s emergent defense corps helped them push for the playoffs - can it stack up against the Avs?

NHL: Seattle Kraken at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

When the playoffs finally begin on Tuesday for the Colorado Avalanche, the Pacific Division’s newest addition will be in Ball Arena making its NHL Playoff Debut - the Seattle Kraken.

The Kraken earned their ticket to the postseason with a high-powered offense driven by a quietly strong backline, headlined by the not-so-quiet Vince Dun. This article is a preview of that backline - but first, here’s the playoff schedule!

Seattle Kraken Projected Defenders

Vince Dunn - Adam Larsson
Jamie Oleksiak - William Borgen
Carson Soucy - Justin Schultz

Other Defenders: Cale Fleury, Jaycob Megna

Top Pair: The Norris and the Norseman

Vince Dunn won’t actually win the Norris trophy, but this season he produced like a bonafide candidate for the trophy and might pick up a few votes from Erik Karlsson haters. Dunn’s 50 assists led the Kraken, and his 14 goals put him in the top 10 goal-scoring defenders league-wide.

He paired that offense with stout defensive metrics, due in part to the stout Swede stapled next to him on the top pair in Adam Larsson. The pair led all defense pairings in the NHL in even strength time on ice and Seattle outscored opponents by 21 goals in that ice time - and it wasn’t sheltered usage either. Larsson is a top-end shutdown defenseman tasked with the other team's top lines and Dunn held his own in those matchups as well.

This pair truly is the backbone of the Kraken, as beyond them the defense has a few more cracks than Kraks.

Second Pair: The Two Towers

William Borgen is not a small man at 6’2, 200 pounds, but Jamie Oleksiak’s hulking 6’7, 250-pound frame makes him look like a kid brother trying to keep up with an elder giant. Together, these two patrol their own zone effectively and free up pucks for the Kraken’s centers to move out of the zone - neither Borgen nor Oleksiak plays the puck-moving D role that Avalanche fans are accustomed to seeing on every pair.

They hit though, and they keep sightlines in the crease clear for their netminders which have helped them keep their goals against as a pair low despite poor possession metrics. They’ve given up just one more goal than they’ve produced but still look like an exploitable matchup for the speedy Avalanche.

Also, once upon a time Oleksiak got up in the offense and did this:

Third Pair: Stable Vets

Carson Soucy and Justin Schultz aren’t your stereotypical aging veteran third-pair defenseman who get by on wily plays despite their grey beards, but at 28 and 32 years old, respectively, they’ve developed into a reliable pair of positionally sound puck movers. Soucy has evolved from the hit-first player he was with the Minnesota Wild into a heady defender who limits mistakes and keeps pucks in the safe areas until he can dig them free to Shultz.

In Schultz’s younger days, he’d take those pucks and try for end-to-end rushes and seeing eye passes that lit up highlight reels, but too often those highlights were turnovers leading to goals the other way. He’s settled down and learned to use his vision for subtle outlet passes to spring his forwards back into attack mode.

He can still take advantage when he gets a break, though:

Who has the advantage?

Colorado, and it’s not close. Dunn and Larsson are a really good top pair, but they aren’t truly in the same stratosphere as Cale Makar and Devon Toews. They might not even be better than Samuel Girard with Bowen Byram or Josh Manson, though that is certainly a closer contest.

Assuming the Avs's second pair is G with Manson, Byram with either Erik or Jack Johnson is a more dynamic version of Schultz with Soucy, though the mistake-prone version of Byram we’ve seen this year does share a lot of qualities with the young version of Schultz described above.

The bottom line here is simple - if an NHL GM made a defense corps out of the twelve defenders slated to start this series, it would feature four Avs.

Toews - Makar
Dunn - Larsson
Girard - Byram

Advantage Avalanche.