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The Kraken and Allen (TX) Americans of the ECHL sign affiliation agreement to provide mid-level pro hockey destination for Seattle prospects

Deep in the heart of Texas, a number of Kraken prospects will play ECHL hockey this season. The Kraken and the Allen Americans of the mid-level professional development league, ECHL, announced a historic affiliation agreement Friday.

Allen will be Seattle’s first-ever association with an ECHL franchise. The agreement calls for the north suburban Dallas team to serve as a welcoming destination for Kraken prospects who will assigned by Seattle GM Ron Francis and his hockey operations group.

The ECHL and next-tier-up American Hockey League will be where signed players not making the NHL roster go for game experience and developmental coaching. The Kraken have a one-year affiliation agreement with the AHL Charlotte Checkers, sharing that roster with the NHL Florida Panthers.

“This is a very important decision as we begin building our franchise,” said Francis. “We’re excited to be engaged with a championship level organization in the Allen Americans.”

There’s no denying Allen’s success story. Founded in 2009 as a team in the now defunct Central Hockey League, the team won two CHL championships in five years. When the CHL folded in 2014, remaining CHL franchises were accepted into the ECHL as full members for the 2014-2015 season. The Americans proceeded to win back-to-back ECHL Kelly Cup titles in their first two seasons.

Kraken assistant GM Ricky Olczyk and Americans team president Mike Waddell started discussing a potential affiliate agreement in March.

“Ron, Ricky and the Seattle leadership have a proven track record over their hockey careers in developing players and winning hockey games,” said Waddell. “The energy around the Kraken being released into the NHL is palpable. We look forward to being a part of their inaugural season and well into the future.”

Part of picking the right ECHL affiliate is identifying a franchise that can recruit professional players (unsigned free agents) who elevate the quality of a roster that in this case includes prospects signed by the NHL team. Allen’s facilities, Dallas area location and track record of success all support those efforts.

Another key item is who will coach Kraken prospects. Americans head coach Steve Martinson fits the bill. He played 49 NHL games as left wing for four different franchises during a pro hockey career spanning 13 seasons in six different developmental leagues along with two stellar NCAA seasons at St. Cloud State.

Martinson started his pro coaching career during the 1995-96 season. He has won 10 league championships at various levels of developmental play, including the aforementioned four straight in Allen.

“We are excited to work with Seattle as we help develop the inaugural group of Kraken prospects,” said Martinson. “We feel the partnership will give the Americans a strong alliance to draw from for this and many years to come.”

“The ECHL is a league where our prospects can get critical time on the ice while being coached by a guy like Steve Martinson,” said Olczyk. “He knows what it takes to make it to the NHL.”

Francis and Olczyk talked with several AHL and ECHL organizations about a player-share arrangement for the upcoming 2021-22 season when construction issues prompted Oak View Group and the Kraken to adjust with a revised Coachella Valley location and timeline for a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena in Palm Desert.

The Kraken were previously awarded the AHL’s 32nd franchise. The Palm Springs AHL franchise (team name to be announced) will begin its inaugural season at the Coachella Valley arena in the fall 2022. Construction for the privately-funded project broke ground in early June and will be ready on time for hockey, concerts, family entertainment, other sports and more.

The Kraken welcomed 40-plus players to their training camp, but only 20 players (18 skaters and two goalies) dress for games, while up to three more players on the active roster are designated “scratches” game by game.

Doing the NHL math, that means some players from the original group of 40 will skate for the AHL affiliate if they are still under contract with the Kraken, along with other free agents the Kraken might sign to AHL deals, ECHL deals or, in some cases, two-way agreements that pay one salary for AHL/ECHL and a higher amount for NHL.

In fact, 10 players drafted by Vegas in 2017 never played an NHL game for the Golden Knights. Another five played 60 NHL games or less.

The active 23-man roster this coming season will need reinforcements with Francis and the Kraken hockey operations group recalling players from AHL Charlotte or ECHL Allen due to injury, illness, suspension, trades, potential shakeups in the lineup and sometimes as a reward for Checkers and Americans players developing at a faster pace than anticipated.