Eduard Sale puts on a Seattle Kraken jersey after being picked by the team during the first round of the NHL draft on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Eduard Sale puts on a Seattle Kraken jersey after being picked by the team during the first round of the NHL draft on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Kraken take forward Eduard Sale with 20th pick in 2023 NHL draft

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound 18-year-old played for Brno in the Extraliga top Czech men’s pro league this past season.

  • By Geoff Baker The Seattle Times
  • Thursday, June 29, 2023 1:30am
  • SportsKraken

By Geoff Baker / The Seattle Times

Seattle Kraken first-round draft pick Eduard Sale of the Czech Republic smiled Wednesday night when describing his “weight” being a top priority of things to improve before continuing his career in North America.

Sale, 18, is 6 feet 2, 175 pounds, but slugged it out in the corners with grown men throughout this past season playing for Brno in the Extraliga top Czech men’s pro league. The Kraken’s No. 20 overall choice in the NHL draft in Nashville was one of only a handful of players his age in the league, but his seven goals and seven assists in 43 games nonetheless earned him top rookie honors in a season of on-ice learning.

“Yeah, it was tough physically,” Sale said by video chat not long after the Kraken selected him. “But I know that when I put on more weight then I can be a good player.”

He added: “It was different from playing in junior. It was tough last season and up-and-down but I think I learned good things. I just moved forward and I know now that I can play professionally.”

Many expect Sale to be a very good, intelligent two-way player as well as a potential power play and penalty kill specialist, though he had a bit of a high-risk, high-reward reputation entering the draft.

Two seasons ago, playing in the Czech Under-20 league, Sale notched 89 points in just 39 games. That total was the most by any player in that league playing in the season before his draft year campaign.

Among things scouts have said Sale must work on after watching his tougher past pro season: His play away from the puck and attention to detail. Otherwise, he is said to have a great stick, makes plays off the forehand and backhand and is considered a gifted offensive talent who could crack an NHL team’s top-two forward lines if he cleans up all areas of his game.

“I need to be working on everything,” Sale said with a smile.

For now, he’s heard the Kraken have: “A young team and I’m really excited to be going there.”

Sale had been expected to go higher by some pundits but remained available when the Kraken had their pick. They could have opted for a defenseman — having been linked to a still-available Oliver Bonk — but had said heading in that overall talent would win out over position.

Sale, a left winger, had been previously linked to the Kraken and was considered by many to be the best player still around once the 20th pick arrived.

As expected, the Chicago Blackhawks selected center Connor Bedard from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League with the No. 1 overall selection. Anaheim went a bit off script in taking Swedish center Leo Carlsson at No. 2 ahead of University of Michigan centerman Adam Fantilli — who was immediately snatched up at No. 3 by Columbus. San Jose went with center Will Smith from the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) at No. 4, Montreal picked Austrian defenseman David Reinbacher at No. 5 and Arizona surprisingly took defender Dmitri Simashev several spots higher than anyone expected at No. 6.

Highly touted Russian winger Matvei Michkov — considered by many to be the second best player in the draft behind Bedard — fell to Philadelphia at No. 7 after concerns arose about his availability. Michkov is under contract to a Kontinental Hockey League team until 2026, and Russia’s war with Ukraine made scouting him in-person next to impossible this past season and could complicate negotiations to bring him to the U.S. any sooner.

Kraken general manager Ron Francis had said this week that taking the best player available was a priority for his team ahead of selecting for positional need. The Kraken selected centerman Matty Beniers at No. 2 overall in 2021 and then saw center Shane Wright surprisingly fall their way at No. 4 a year ago in Montreal.

Lucking into Wright and selecting Jagger Firkus and Jani Nyman in the next round left the Kraken a little top-heavier at forward with their prospects compared to on defense. For now, second-round pick Ryker Evans from 2021 remains their top blueline asset after a stellar professional debut with AHL Coachella Valley this past season.

“There’s no sense passing on a particular forward, or defenseman or goaltender if you think he’s the best guy available just because you may need that position down the road,” Francis had said. “If you get the best player available and you develop that player and still need that other position down the road, at least you have talented players that you could look at switching to fill that void.

“The key is making sure you get the best players that when they start to develop, have the best chance of reaching the NHL.”

In choosing Sale, the Kraken bypassed winger Gabe Perreault, a top USNTDP prospect expected to go in the top-15 but who also remained available when the 20th pick arrived. Perreault, son of former NHL forward Yanic Perreault, was considered a bit of a higher upside offensive pick with less defensive ability than Sale. He wound up going No. 23 overall to the New York Rangers.

Sale hails from the same country as Kraken amateur scouting director Robert Kron, who is heavily plugged-in to the European scene. The Kraken have invested big in European scouts and aren’t shy about taking players from all corners of the continent.

Sale had a goal and five assists last winter to help Czechia win a silver medal at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, losing the gold medal game in overtime to Kraken prospect Shane Wright and Team Canada.

“I know Shane from playing against him with the Canadian team,” Sale said, adding he’s looking forward to seeing him at the team’s prospect camp this weekend at the Kraken Community Iceplex.

Kraken select 9 on Day 2

A busy second day for the Kraken at the NHL draft in Nashville saw the team continue to load up on high-powered forwards, including one who gave Shane Wright’s squad fits in the recent Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

The day after selecting Czech Republic left wing Eduard Sale with the No. 20 overall pick, the Kraken added forward Carson Rehkopf from the Kitchener Rangers and center Oscar Fisker Molgaard from Denmark with their first two second rounders at Nos. 50 and 52.

“I think I have a lot of skill for kind of a bigger guy and can move well,” Rehkopf told reporters in Nashville after being selected. “But I can also play a hard style of game.”

He added that combining the two skillsets makes for “a very valuable package” and showing the Kraken he can consistently deploy them every game will be key.

The push towards forwards with their higher round picks continued a trend from the team’s first two drafts, though the Kraken offset that somewhat by using a final second round selection at No. 57 on Tri-City Americans defenseman Lucas Dragicevic.

Still, even Dragicevic is known far more for his offensive abilities than his defensive prowess.

The Kraken had nine picks on Thursday, including the three second rounders, one apiece in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Their third round pick at No. 84 was used on Kelowna Rockets defenseman Caden Price while Belarus centerman Andrei Loshko was taken in the fourth round at No. 116 after two seasons with Chicoutimi in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Everett Silvertips defenseman Kaden Hammell was taken by the Kraken in the fifth round at No. 148, Finnish netminder Visa Vedenpaa and Swedish centerman Zeb Forsfjall in the sixth round at Nos. 168 and 180, while Cedar Rapids USHL winger Zaccharya Wisdom closed out the team’s draft at No. 212 in the seventh and final round.

“Overall, I think we were pleased with the way it fell,” Francis said. “There might have been one or two we were maybe hoping could go different ways but that’s the draft, right? When you’re drafting through seven rounds sometimes that’s going to happen.”

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