NHL playoffs: Kraken get boost from the ultimate unlikely hero

The Seattle Kraken are up 3-2 in their series with the Colorado Avalanche in part due to the contributions of an undrafted rookie's stellar NHL debut.

The "unlikely hero" trope applies to every team in the NHL playoffs as most squads that succeed need timely contributions from players outside their core.

Even within that context, the man who gave the Seattle Kraken a boost on Wednesday night takes the idea of an improbable figure claiming center stage to the next level.

Tye Kartye wasn't expected to be an impact player at the AHL level this year, let alone a central figure in an NHL playoff game. That's not even subjective analysis based on his lack of prospect pedigree.

Tye Kartye emerged as the unlikeliest of heroes for the Seattle Kraken in their Game 5 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1 of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Tye Kartye emerged as the unlikeliest of heroes for the Seattle Kraken in their Game 5 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1 of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

His coach with the Coachella Firebirds of the AHL — Stanley Cup winner Dan Bylsma — said as much to the The Desert Sun after Kartye was called up to the Kraken's roster for the playoffs.

"He did score a lot in his last year in junior, but the expectation wasn't for Tye Kartye to come in and knock the doors off the first time he touched the puck," he said. "He had to get into a development process, he had to get into a work mindset, and he had to get on a plan. To his credit, from Day 1, he's been a consummate worker who has soaked up knowledge. He's worked on every aspect of his game."

After sitting in the press box for four games of the Kraken's series with the Colorado Avalanche, he made his debut at the sport's highest level on Wednesday. Halfway through his first NHL game, he gave his team the lead.

In just 8:41 minutes on the ice he also provided three hits, had an xGF% of 57.32 at 5-on-5, and even earned a little bit of power-play time.

The fact that Kartye played an important role in Seattle's 3-2 victory is hard to fathom considering where he was just a year ago. At this time in 2022 he was helping guide the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds through a first-round series against the Guelph Storm in the OHL playoffs.

Elite prospects can jump from the OHL to the NHL quickly sometimes, but Kartye had just turned 21 and the fact he ranked 20th in the league in scoring was dampened by the fact he was older and more physically developed than the vast majority of his peers.

In his age-18 and age-19 seasons he produced 77 points in 128 games, which helps explain why the NHL never perceived him as a big-time prospect.

Despite his lack of gaudy numbers, Kartye got a look at Kraken training camp prior to their inaugural season in 2021-22, and after his strong year with the Greyhounds he signed an entry-level contract with the team prior to 2022-23.

We'll never know exactly what Seattle thought his ceiling was at that time, but there's no doubt they were taking a low-risk flier. The unfortunate truth is that most players with Kartye's profile simply don't make it to the NHL.

He's already overcome the odds and achieved something extremely impressive. It's easy to root for a guy who was never supposed to make it this far.

Kartye didn't just make it, either. He made an impact.

In many ways he embodies the entire 2022-23 Kraken team. Seattle is in just its second year as a franchise and it has the defending champion Avalanche on the ropes with a 3-2 series lead. No one would be shocked if Colorado is able to escape it's predicament, but the Kraken are no joke.

As a team that recently went through the expansion draft process, Seattle is a team largely built on players that other squads didn't see the value in. Kartye didn't come to them that way, but he's yet another example.

Whatever lies in store for the winger, in less than nine minutes of NHL ice time he's already established himself as one of the Kraken's first playoff heroes.