Confidence level keeps rising for Kartye

Photo: Mike Zitek

📝 by Patrick Williams

HERSHEY, Pa. … It has already been a dream rookie season for Tye Kartye.

Is a Calder Cup ring asking too much?

Maybe not. Kartye and the Coachella Valley Firebirds are two wins away from a Calder Cup championship as they prepare for Game 3 against the Hershey Bears on Tuesday night (7 ET, AHLTV). Hershey managed to keep Kartye off the scoresheet in Game 2 after he scored the opening goal of the series in Game 1, but he remains a top threat every night.

Still, this remarkable season started slowly for Kartye, an undrafted 22-year-old who managed just one goal and one assist in his first 12 games.

But when Kartye began to figure out the AHL — picking up on more effective ways to gain the time and space needed to put one of the AHL’s most elite shots to use — the goals piled up quickly. He went on to rack up 28 goals and 29 assists while playing in all 72 games, winning the AHL’s rookie of the year award.

“I just think it was kind of gradual with my confidence and getting used to the style of play because it was much different than the [Ontario Hockey League],” said Kartye, who played his junior hockey with the Soo Greyhounds. “I feel like I just kept working at it, and then I gradually saw results. It just kept getting better and better.”

It certainly did. And then came the postseason, which began with Kartye scoring twice in the Firebirds’ first-round series victory over Tucson. Next came a call from the parent Seattle Kraken, who summoned him for Game 5 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series against the defending champion Colorado Avalanche.

As it happened, the Firebirds were preparing to face the Colorado Eagles, so Kartye made his way an hour south to Denver and made his NHL debut, scoring a goal to help Seattle to a 3-2 victory. He became a productive fixture in the Kraken lineup, totaling three goals and two assists in 10 games before Seattle was eliminated by Dallas in the second round.

With the Kraken’s season over, Kartye returned to the Firebirds lineup for Game 4 of the division finals against Calgary. He popped in two goals in the series-clinching Game 6 win over Milwaukee in the conference finals, and now has six goals and eight points in 13 Calder Cup Playoff contests.

Kartye brought back plenty of know-how from his time in the NHL, just another set of lessons in a season already packed with them.

“I learned a lot about how to be in the right spots, and a lot about not getting too high, not getting too low in the playoffs. Always trying to always keep it even-keeled and not trying to do too much. Just do your job and what your role is on the team.”

Kartye scored 45 goals in the OHL last season, catching the attention of the Kraken and earning a three-year entry-level deal. With only two turns at the NHL draft table so far, the Kraken have not yet cycled most of their picks into their AHL operation in Coachella Valley. Kartye has an early foot in the door. He has made skating a top target for improvement, and it has shown: He is able to play with more pace, stay moving, and be a better forechecking presence.

Having guidance from assistant coach Jessica Campbell with her extensive background in skating work has not hurt. Nor has beginning his career playing for a veteran head coach like Dan Bylsma.

“He’s been there and done that,” Kartye said of Bylsma. “Just hearing about some of the incredible players he coached before, and trying to practice and incorporate it into your game, I think is pretty cool.”