A year ago, Dave Hakstol was a relative unknown as he was preparing for his first season as a head coach in the NHL. Making the leap from college hockey to the professional ranks was something only done by two other coaches in the history of the NHL, so Hakstol certainly had his work cut out for him.
Things didn’t start out very smoothly for Hakstol and the Flyers. The first few months of the season saw them lose a lot more games than they won. To Hakstol’s credit, players trying to learn a new system and adjust to a new coach are things that take the time to come together.
However, once the players started to fully grasp Hakstol’s system, a system that was the backbone of his North Dakota teams that made seven Frozen Four appearances and finished with a 289-143-43 lifetime record (.654 winning percentage), the team would go on a run that saw them unexpectedly sneak into the playoffs and set the expectations much higher for his second season.
One of the main problems under former head coaches Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube was their inabilities to develop young players at the NHL level. Players like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn were bounced up and down the lineup and not always put in the best positions to succeed and suffered as a result.
Interestingly enough, in Hakstol’s first season, both players saw their best offensive outputs of their young careers. This is perhaps why Ron Hextall fell in love with what Hakstol had to offer when he made him his first-appointed head coach of his tenure. Hakstol had spent the last 11 seasons building a program at North Dakota handling and developing 18-to-22 year-old kids.
He had a knack for getting the best out of his young players, which saw 42 of them go on to be drafted to the NHL, 20 of which would turn into NHL players. Among them were stars such as Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and T.J. Oshie.
Considering Hextall’s philosophies of the building and developing of a team from within, heavily emphasizing on young players and draft picks, it was paramount that he brought in a head coach who had an elite ability to be able to get the best out of young players and prospects.
Now that Hakstol’s system and culture have been well established throughout the organization, it’ll be interesting to see how the team fares in his second year behind the bench. From Jan. 1, 2016, to the end of the season, the Flyers were one of the best teams in the league, posting a 26-13-7 record.
The 2016-17 season will be looked at as another year of transition for the organization. With all the players on board after taking the league by storm once the calendar flipped to 2016, the goal now will be to go from playoff wild cards to challenging for a top-three spot in the division.
Making the playoffs last year when it wasn’t expected was the icing on the cake of a successful year one for Hakstol and the Flyers. Now, entering season two, it’s paramount that they begin funneling in some of their prized prospects into the NHL lineup.
The faster the Flyers can get their nucleus of youngsters they’ve stockpiled recently integrated with the current crop of players in their prime (such as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds), the quicker the Flyers can go from annual playoff bubble team to real Stanely Cup contenders.