Blackwell excited to get started with NHL's expansion Kraken

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Jul. 28—Last Wednesday was one of the biggest days of Colin Blackwell's hockey playing life. Yet if you followed him on social media, you would've been bombarded by posts about professional basketball.

As rumors swirled about the National Hockey League's Expansion Draft involving the league's 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken, Blackwell's feed was full of highlights and congratulations for his fellow St. John's Prep graduate and classmate, Pat Connaughton, who'd won the NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks the night before.

It was just one of the ways Blackwell kept his mind clear while waiting to hear that'd been officially selected by the Kraken from his previous team, the New York Rangers, and would be heading West to begin his fourth season in the NHL.

"I tried to get away from things and was lucky that I was home in North Andover, so I was able to clear my mind and not think about it too much," said Blackwell, who spent some of his time near home skating with the St. John's Prep coaching staff that he remains close with.

Every team in the NHL had to choose which skaters to protect from for the Expansion Draft (as many as 10) and which ones they'd expose and potentially lose to Seattle. The Rangers ultimately wound up exposing Blackwell after his breakout first season in the Big Apple. The move brought immediate buzz around the league that he'd be a great get for the Kraken.

Though it was rumored the Rangers might swing a trade to retain the 28-year-old former Prep and Harvard University standout, it didn't come to pass. Now officially a Kraken with one year left on his current contract, the 28-year-old Blackwell is thrilled to in on the ground floor of a brand new team.

"I couldn't be more excited," he said. "It's going to be one of the coolest experiences of my professional life. Everybody's coming in from different situations across the league, and there are so many good players in this league that maybe it's a matter of getting more of a leash and they blossom here and hit their full potential."

Though he makes his offseason home in Milwaukee, where he played two seasons for Nashville's American Hockey League affiliate and often goes to Connaughton's Bucks games, Blackwell has some connections to Seattle. One of his cousins plays professional women's soccer and has been with the Seattle franchise.

"There's some familiarity between my cousin, knowing some of the players and some of the equipment guys I know from the AHL, too," Blackwell said. "There's a great buzz around Seattle ... it's brand new facilities and the fans are pretty wild. I'm very excited."

A 5-foot-9, 190 pound forward, Blackwell had a career high 12 goals and 22 points in 47 games for the Rangers in 2020-21. He signed a two-year deal with New York last summer, a decision that no doubt helped him prove himself as a full-time NHL player. His style of play endeared himself to New York's passionate fan base, generating on-line memes of his face plastered on Captain America's body after some of his big goals.

"It worked out so well for me. I proved myself, but I still feel like it was only a taste and I'm still hungry," Blackwell said. "It was good exposure in a great market and overall an awesome experience. I'm pretty grateful for it."

Blackwell's play in New York also earned him a spot with the United States men's national team in the IIHF Men's World Championships, played in Latvia in late May. It was the first team Blackwell had ever earned a Team USA sweater (he was a shoe-in for the world juniors during his college days but was injured) and he so impressed his teammates and coaches that he earned an 'A' as one of the team's alternate captains.

"It's one of the coolest things I've ever done," said Blackwell, who had four goals in 10 games and helped Team USA win the bronze medal. "When you win and they raise the flag and play then anthem ... everything about it is unreal. There's aren't too many words to put on that."

Blackwell also got to play with the Kraken's No. 2 overall draft pick Matthew Beniers, who hails from Hingham and even shouted out Blackwell in his introductory press conference last week. The large Bay State contingent at the World Championship's was a big point of pride for Mass. Hockey, Blackwell said.

He also felt playing in the World Championships helped raise his stock around the league and may have put him on Seattle's radar.

"It was great exposure, especially with only playing against seven other teams this past year with the short season," he said. "I think there was a lot of film from New York and from the world championships. Seattle's assistant GM, Jason Botterill, was with Buffalo when I was in Rochester and I think that familiarity helps, too."

Once the move became official on the NHL's Expansion Draft broadcast on ESPN, Blackwell heard from Seattle's management. He's excited about the faith them have in him and the role they see him playing as they look to compete for a playoff spot right away.

"It's a once in a lifetime chance to be a part of history, a team's first game ever," said Blackwell, who will use missing the playoffs last year and having the Rangers leave him unprotected as motivation going to his new home. "You never feel like your job is done, and it does motivate you even more."

Beginning a new chapter in a great city is a unique opportunity that Blackwell says he'll certainly relish. He'll also make sure he takes advantage of some of the delicacies Seattle's known for.

"Seattle's the land of good coffee ... and I drink a lot of coffee," he said with a chuckle. "That fits my mold pretty well."

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