The Seattle Kraken officially have their first head coach in franchise history, and it’s not who most people were expecting. Dave Hakstol joins the NHL’s 32nd team after serving as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs since 2019. He was primarily responsible for running the Maple Leafs’ defensive corps during his time in Toronto, likely signifying Kraken general manager Ron Francis is looking to build a defense-first roster. Let’s take a look at Hakstol’s history as an NHL and NCAA coach and see why Francis went with a curveball hire for Seattle’s first-ever bench boss.
A Great Communicator With 3+ Years of NHL Head Coaching Experience
Hakstol first made the jump up to the NHL in 2015, serving as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers until 2018. In just over three seasons with the Flyers, he compiled a record of 134-101-42. In his first season in Philadelphia, he led them to the playoffs after the team failed to qualify the year prior. He reached the postseason again in his third and final full season with the team. Not bad at all for a first-time NHL head coach.
“Tracking back to University of North Dakota days, Dave is a coach who cares about his players,” said Francis in the Kraken’s press release on Thursday. “At times, a coach’s messages can get diluted. Players want to understand what the coach wants them to do. Dave communicates clearly and concisely. Players like that.”
Although Hakstol’s two playoff appearances resulted in first-round losses, there is no denying that he played a positive role behind the Flyers’ bench. As any hockey player knows, communication is key, and Hakstol appears to have the skill mastered.
Francis added that “Dave is confident, strong on technical aspects of playing three-zone game.”
Impressive NCAA Record with the University of North Dakota
Prior to coaching in the NHL, Hakstol served as head coach of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in NCAA Division I. In 11 years with the program, he leads the team to 11 NCAA tournament appearances and seven Frozen Fours. Now six years after making the leap up to the top level, more than 30 of his former NCAA players have made it to the NHL and played nearly 8,500 games.
“He turns kids into men,” said Stephane Pattyn, a former player of Hakstol’s at the University of North Dakota. “Guys show up at 18, 19, 20 years old and leave three of four years later as men. He’s more worried about the people we become than his winning percentage. I think that says a lot about him. He’s by far the greatest coach I’ve ever played for.”
An eight-time finalist for national coach of the year and two-time recipient of conference coach of the year, he was just the third head coach in history to go straight from the college ranks to an NHL head coaching job.
Heading into his second NHL head coaching job, Hakstol is out to prove himself in Seattle after his firing from the Flyers three years ago. Coming into a fresh franchise and helping build it from the ground up gives him the perfect opportunity to do so. With the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft scheduled for July 21, the Kraken finally have their main staff in place to craft the first roster in team history.
Tom Pepper is an NHL columnist at The Hockey Writers.