First Impression, Lasting Impression |

The first official impression of center and alternate captain Yanni Gourde as a Kraken player was decidedly profound and every impression since has inspired fans, Seattle coaches and teammates alike.

That first impression? Gourde on a Zoom video call talking to reporters who in turn would be writing, podcasting and broadcasting to Kraken fans wanted to know more about the Tampa Bay forward, fresh off winning a second-straight Stanley Cup and recovering from a post-Cup parade shoulder surgery.

Yes, Gourde said many positive things about coming West and leaving the Tampa Bay franchise that gave the undrafted 5-foot-9 forward the opportunity to play significant minutes in two victorious Stanley Cup finals, plus scoring a shorthanded goal in the 2020 Cup run that was only tally in a Game 7 win over the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference final.

But what stood out the most is Gourde pretty much did not stop smiling the entire video call. He appeared genuinely thrilled about his next NHL chapter and unfazed by a potential duo of buzz kills, not being protected by the Lightning despite his postseason heroics and facing a long rehab after recovering left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Gourde said he was honored to be picked by the Kraken, the chosen choice among a talented group of ex-TBL teammates who play his same forward positions: Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson (now with Chicago) and Mathieu Joseph (since traded to Ottawa).

“It’s pretty nice to know [the Kraken] wants you that bad when there’s a lot of people that are very talented that were left unprotected, “Gourde said.” I was fortunate enough to get picked and get drafted and I’m super excited … It’s going to be a great challenge . “

The next formidable and indelible impression for fans occurred during Day 1 of training camp in late September. Gourde joined a second-session group in a red no-contact jersey but, when allowed, showed off his speed during certain drills. Kraken GM Ron Francis surmised, “I consider him to be ahead of schedule.”

By early October, Gourde was skating in practices without the red jersey and accompanied the Kraken for the five-games-in-eight-nights road trip to start the season. In the fifth and final game of the trip, Gourde logged 22-plus minutes in New Jersey and recorded an assist. He scored his first goal of the season in a home win over Montreal (a thrill for the Quebec native) and added an assist.

All this in October when the medical projection is Gourde would not return from the shoulder surgery until December. He finished the season as Seattle’s second-leading scorer (21 goals, 27 assists) and tops among forwards in time on ice (averaging 18-and-a-half minutes per game).

For Dave Hakstol, what was even more impressive is how “Yanni drags guys into the fight,” something the Kraken head coach said more than a few times during the season. That hockey term is less about actual scraps or fisticuffs-of which Kraken fans are fully aware Gourde is willing to engage-and instead squarely motivational for teammates.

“It’s probably the way I play, my energy, my will of wanting to do the right thing,” Gourde said in early May during an exclusive end-of-season interview. “To go out and make the right play – finishing the hit, going to front of the net, getting cross-checked [drawing a penalty whistled on an opponent]. Sometimes it’s hard, but guys notice and do it too. They follow up [Gourde’s lead]. “

It’s no accident the Kraken number 37 jersey is a top seller among fans. Gourde’s high-motor style of play attracts attention whether he playing 5-on-5, power plays (on which he scored seven goals) or the penalty kill (four shorthanded goals).

“I think you guys see it every day, just his passion and how hard he plays,” Hakstol said to the Kraken media corps late season. “He’s playing in every situation right now, and in some cases that’s probably a little unfair to him because there’s some nights we’re probably using him a little bit too much.

“But as we’ve gotten into the second half of the year, he’s thrived off that. He’s adjusted to some of that extra ice time and he continues to be a driver with his energy.”

Fans no doubt observe Gourde talking with line mates and other Kraken players on the bench when it’s not his shift. Kraken TV analyst JT Brown, a former teammate in Tampa Bay, discussed it regularly on ROOT SPORTS Northwest telecast.

The 30-year-old veteran is vocal and fun-loving in practices. Does Gourde have things to say in the Kraken locker room during game intermissions?

“I talk a lot, ‘said Gourde matter-of-factly, smiling ear to ear.” In practice, I joke around but I compete in practice and take a lot of pride in that. I try to make it lighter sometimes so everything does not feel as routine … But we work hard too and compete against each other. That’s what makes it fun, competing, whether in practice or games. “

Did Gourde speak up similarly with the Lightning and all those fellow veterans?

“I talked a lot in Tampa too,” said Gourde, another huge grin follows.

Gourde was vocal about the Kraken fan base early and often during the inaugural season, explaining during the interview that opponents and NHL friends around the league noticed the crowd noise and support.

“Everybody was super impressed with our fans and the energy in the building,” Gourde said. “A lot of players said we’re a tough team to play against. That we do not give up much, which you think when you’re [playing against] a bottom of the league team, you’re going to get a lot of scoring chances, get a lot odd-man rushes.

“But we played a style that was pretty tough to play against most games, though we had some lapses. It’s a matter of doing it for the whole 60 minutes and finding the back of the net, creating more offense. Once we figure that out , we’re going to be a good team. “

Gourde specifically praised the knowledgeable and high-motor Climate Pledge Arena crowds (takes high-energy to know high-energy, right?). He cited penalty-kill situations as Exhibit A.

“You go out on a PK shift, hold the puck 30 seconds in the offensive zone,” said Gourde. “You feel the energy and are feeling pretty good about yourselves going back to the bench. You realize we and the fans are making it tough for the other team to go on the power play and score a goal.

“You energize the rest of the group, energize the next shift. You’re going on ice, you’ve got momentum. It’s created by small thing that happened on PK but followed up by the energy the fans are bringing. It makes a big difference. “


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