By Sarah Berkowitz
The Flyers yesterday hired rising star Kris Knoblauch as an assistant on Dave Hakstol’s staff.
In other words, the mediocre Hakstol, who is in over his college head in the NHL, will be looking over his shoulder next season!
Knoblauch is coming off an Ontario Hockey League title and four consecutive 50-win seasons as he helped Connor McDavid and many other talented teenagers develop into successful professionals.
Knoblauch also had a hand in the development of Washington Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Connor Brown in Erie and Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart during his time coaching the Kootenay Ice, which included a Western Hockey League championship.
Brown said Knoblauch deserves “a massive amount” of credit for turning the Otters into a junior hockey powerhouse and compared his style to that of Mike Babcock, the Stanley Cup- and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning coach of the Maple Leafs.
“They deliver information in a way you really understand,” Brown said. “He brings that classroom mentality to the dressing room.”
Going to a young team like the Flyers, which might have 33-year-old Valtteri Filppula as its oldest player, looks like a perfect fit for Knoblauch, who learned early in his career that drawing up power plays and forechecking strategies was a small fraction of the job compared to managing individuals. In Erie, Knoblauch and his staff created personality profiles of players to know how best to communicate with them.
“He does a lot of investigative work to try and find out how they think, how they respond, what do they respond best to,” Erie general manager Dave Brown said. “Any time a coach takes that much time and pride into doing that kind of thing, I think you’ll see somebody who’s going to be successful.”
With an emphasis on speed, skill and offense, Knoblauch had three different players lead the league in scoring in his four full seasons in Erie: Brown in 2013-14, Strome in 2014-15 and DeBrincat in 2016-17. His team ranked first or second on the power play all four years, too, a good sign for the Flyers as Knoblauch will be responsible for improving a power play that finished 20th in the NHL.
“You see in the NHL how key special teams are,” said Strome, the third pick in 2015 draft when McDavid went first. “He’s so good at special teams. They’re probably his go-to.”
That’s one part of his repertoire. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall cited Knoblauch’s experiencing coaching “a lot of good young offensive gifted players” as the reason he was the Flyers’ choice to replace Joe Mullen.
“Kris’ teams had a lot of success on the power play, in the goal-scoring department, goals against and obviously just the success overall,” Hextall said on a conference call. “We liked his personality, we feel he’ll fit in really well with our group and he has a good hockey mind.”