Dave Hakstol impressed by Nolan Patrick, affirms his chance to make Flyers

Dave Hakstol impressed by Nolan Patrick, affirms his chance to make Flyers

Dave Hakstol, sitting in the Flyers suite at United Center, didn’t have much time to form a lot of opinions about Nolan Patrick, the club’s No. 2 overall pick in this weekend’s NHL draft.

This much the Flyers' coach is confident in: the 6-foot-2 forward, who comes from a strong NHL lineage, is going to get every chance to make the Flyers roster this fall.

“He’s a good two-way player, who makes plays,” Hakstol said. “Great physical package in terms of size and strength. Just a chance to meet him real briefly. Impressive young man.”

Patrick’s competitiveness and overall hockey sense impress the Flyers. He will be a valuable addition to a poor Flyer penalty kill unit that needs immediate upgrading.

Scouts were unanimous that Patrick, who turns 19 during training camp, was more NHL-ready than Swiss center Nico Hischier, whom New Jersey selected at No. 1.

“That has to be answered,” Hakstol said of Patrick’s chances to make the team, echoing what general manager Ron Hextall said also this weekend. “There’s a big summer ahead for Nolan. He’s talked about getting himself to 100 percent health and a great summer of training and development.

“That question will be answered as we go through training camp. He’s a real exciting young player. He has a pretty good body of work behind him that says he is awful close [to the NHL].”

Indications from Hextall were that Patrick will play center and won’t be asked to move to the wing where the club has needs. Swedish rookie forward Oskar Lindblom is expected to go immediately to left wing in his debut.

So is Jori Lehtera, who was acquired as part of the Brayden Schenn trade on Friday night. Hakstol cautioned he needed to have a conversation with Lehtera before committing to the move.

Or as Hextall said repeatedly this weekend, “someone has to move to the wing.”

“I need to talk more with him about that,” Hakstol said. “Without starting to predict which guys are potentially going to move from center to wing that is something that is gonna play out. I can’t answer that today. Is there a possibility of that? There is.”

It’s also possible someone else could move to wing.

“That’s reality as we go through camp in the early portion maybe in the season, we have to answer that question,” Hakstol said. “Someone may have to move out of position.

“Who that will be I’m not ready to try and predict that right now. It has to play out over time, see where everybody is at, including Nolan, and some other young guys right there, knocking on the door. Then move from there.”

Hextall reiterated not to count Scott Laughton out of the equation. He said the hard luck Flyer first-round pick made remarkable progress in his overall game with the Phantoms last season and will be pushing for a roster spot.

Hakstol agreed with his GM that more young players on the roster – Lindblom and Travis Konecny to start – will be asked to make up for the 25 goals that the club lost in trading Schenn to St. Louis. Their minutes will rise, accordingly.

“It’s asking a lot,” Hakstol said. “That’s where some of it has to come from. Some of the quality minutes that Brayden Schenn has been in, some of those minutes, not necessarily all, certainly could go to young players.

“Not just a couple guys new to the roster this year, but Travis Konecny, guys like that who can benefit from more minutes in those situations.”

Whether unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal is part of all this remains unanswered. Hextall seemed understandably frustrated as there was no progress toward getting him re-signed this past weekend ahead of free agency which begins at noon on Saturday.

“Weal was a real good player for us and played an important role for our hockey team,” Hakstol said. “That part of the business is yet to take place. Certainly, in my mind, Jordan Weal is an important part of where we want to go.”

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

End to End: Impressions on the Flyers' hiring of Kris Knoblauch

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Thoughts on the Flyers hiring Kris Knoblauch to run the power play.

Dougherty
There doesn't appear to be much to dislike about the Knoblauch hire. If we're nitpicking, it would be he has no professional coaching experience, but that's the smallest of nitpicks. Especially when the Flyers' head coach, Dave Hakstol, came directly from the University of North Dakota to the pros without any prior experience. I don't think that's a concern at all.

Knoblauch was considered a high riser in the junior coaching ranks, and we know he was itching to make it to the professional ranks. We just didn't know it would come this quick. In late May, he told the Edmonton Journal that he's "ready to make the step [to pro]." One week after Erie lost to Windsor in the Memorial Cup, Knoblauch has made that leap.

I'm intrigued by the hire for a few reasons. Erie's power play under Knoblauch has been a top-two unit in the OHL for the past four seasons, so he comes with a pedigree. Some may look at the talent he's had to work with — Connor McDavid (2012-15), Andre Burakovsky (2013-14), Dylan Strome (2013-17), Alex DeBrincat (2014-17) — and say it would be hard not to boast a potent power play. But I don't believe it's fair to discount Erie's style of play here.

As eloquently broken down by The First Pass' Rachel Doerrie (h/t Broad Street Hockey), the Otters under Knoblauch played a puck-possession heavy speed game, similar to the Russian brand. "From your icing line to the offensive blue line, the puck goes North/South," Doerrie writes. "From the offensive blue line, move the puck East/West." It'll be interesting to see what changes Knoblauch brings to the Flyers' PP.

But I'm also curious to see if he'll work with Hakstol to implement some of this into the Flyers' play at 5-on-5. I don't see this necessarily as a sign Hakstol is on the hot seat as he enters Year 3 as the Flyers' coach. I do see it, however, as GM Ron Hextall jumping on a hot commodity who he believes can help the Flyers' man advantage and also help develop kids.

Another interesting note: It's Hextall's second coaching hire and both have come outside the organization. That's a welcomed change of pace.

Hall
Most importantly, I think the Flyers needed a fresh face.

Albeit not easy, change is oftentimes necessary. As difficult as it was to part ways with longtime assistant Joey Mullen, Hextall knew it was needed for the Flyers, which is a positive of the GM.

Here's what Hextall said on April 13 when he announced the firing of Mullen:

"It's just one of those things where I feel like we needed a change. He's one of the nicest human beings. Monday was one of the worst days of my life because of it. That was a hard thing to do. Mully's a great guy. I have an awful lot of respect for him. Please do not think that in any way I'm laying anything on him.

"He's a terrific human being, one of my favorite guys in the whole world, but my gut feeling was to make a change there."

From Jan. 15 to the end of the season, the Flyers' power play ranked 28th in the NHL with a 14.6 percentage. And after finishing with the league's third-most successful man advantage in 2014-15, the Flyers slipped to 11th in 2015-16 and 14th in 2016-17. The power play limped to the finish line this season, often looking stale and overly reliant on perimeter passing and shooting.

As Hextall pointed out, this was not all on Mullen. But new personnel and adjusted strategy should be welcomed.

With Knoblauch, the Flyers get a young (38 years old), up-and-coming coach who has been extolled for his ability to strategize, communicate and adapt.

"Connor McDavid was going to go play in the NHL no matter if Kris coached him or not, but he made Connor a better player," hockey agent Jeff Jackson said to The Associated Press. "He teaches a culture of winning and speed and puck movement, but he empowers all the kids."

This was a telling hire by Hextall and it's hard to dislike right now. 

But this is the honeymoon stage of hiring a new coach. Positives are typically flowing the moment the name surfaces, but we'll have to wait and see for the actual results.

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

'Forward thinker' Kris Knoblauch great fit for Dave Hakstol, Flyers, Erie GM says

When Kris Knoblauch informed Erie Otters' general manager Dave Brown this week he was taking a job with the Flyers, Brown started laughing.

"What's so funny?" Knoblauch asked.  
 
"You just want to go to a team where you look like the head coach," Brown recalled Thursday to CSNPhilly.com.
 
Indeed.

If you place photos of Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol and Knoblauch side-by-side, they could pass as brothers.
 
"They look like twins," Brown said.

The Flyers hired the 38-year-old Knoblauch on Wednesday as Hakstol's assistant coach, replacing Joey Mullen (see story). Knoblauch also met with the Sabres and Kings before accepting his role with the Flyers, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Dhiren Mahiban.

Knoblauch's focus will be the Flyers' erratic power play, which saw much success during the 10 years Mullen was here but faltered badly in the second half of last season. The Flyers failed to make the playoffs.

Brown has no doubts Knoblauch will fix the Flyers' PP because his unit with the Otters ranked either first or second in the OHL over the last four seasons. Erie became one of the best clubs in junior hockey during this time.

Knoblauch's Otters are the only club in CHL history to have four consecutive 50-win seasons.

"Kris is a forward thinker," Brown said. "He is someone open to a new idea and always looking for new ways to generate offense. He understands his players' wants and needs.
 
"A lot goes into Kris in how he gets them to open up and listen to what he wants them to get done. He talks to them to find out what they think will work … he's not a guy who jams things down your throat. When you make suggestions, he is more likely to listen."
 
Craig Button, a TSN analyst who is familiar with CHL coaches as well as top draft prospects, said Knoblauch represents another move by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall toward progressive thinking.
 
What does Button like best about Knoblauch?

"How about everything," Button said. "Where to start? One, he is smart. He's intuitive. He's a very clear communicator. He understands and knows that things don't always go as planned. He takes responsibility. He doesn't blame.
  
"He's creative and always looking for solutions. He's in control, but collaborative. Knows that others may have a better solution or improvement. He cedes the spotlight. It's never about him.

"He's confident in his abilities and lets actions speak for themselves. He's highly competitive. Don't let his calm demeanor define him. Still, waters run deep."
 
Knoblauch's Western Canada upbringing is in play when dealing with his players.

"He is a teacher by trade and the perfect teacher-turned-coach would be Kris Knoblauch," Brown said. "At first, he comes across pretty quiet.

 "He's that Saskatchewan guy with great core values and always transferring those over to his players to learn, not just what is on the ice but what is off the ice."
 
Knoblauch will be the youngest assistant coach on Hakstol's staff. He's said to have the ability to build strong relationships with young players.

Hextall saw those same attributes in Hakstol when he hired him two years ago.

Yet Hakstol struggled last season in handling some of his younger Flyers. In particular, the multiple benchings of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. Even some of the slightly older veterans didn't like some of Hakstol's moves, as well.

Knoblauch's presence — even as an even younger coach than Hakstol, 48 — allows for another younger voice on the staff to handle players during difficult times.
 
"Kris relates to this generation of player," Button said. "He is absolutely loved by his players, but they also know he will hold them accountable."

Brown added Knoblauch had a knack for figuring out how to handle situations that would arise on some of his teams that included star players such as Connor McDavid, now with the Edmonton Oilers.
 
"Kris has no problem diffusing a situation by having a sit-down meeting with guys and saying, this is what I need from you and spelling out expectations," Brown said.

Erie forward Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' 2016 second-round pick, on Thursday told Mahiban that Knoblauch is his "favorite coach" he's ever had. DeBrincat scored 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games this season for the Otters.

"It's cool to see him get that job. He definitely deserves it," DeBrincat told Mahiban. "He talks to his players a lot. He likes to get to know 'em. I think that really helps him out and helps him kind of feel out whether he should yell at this guy or not."

With that said, DeBrincat, who had 332 points in 191 games in three seasons playing for Knoblauch, says the Flyers' new assistant is a calming presence behind the bench and only yells when needed.

"He's a really calm guy and I think that definitely calms down the bench when something's not going right," DeBrincat said. "You look at him, and if he's frustrated, the guys will get frustrated. He's always calm behind there and just a good guy to have on your bench because he's so calm and it goes throughout the bench."

Knoblauch created detailed player profiles to get inside of a player's makeup to figure out how they could maximize their potential without setting unrealistic expectations.
 
"Kris sets very attainable goals," Brown said. "What he was so good at here was setting realistic expectations, which built confidence. That is where he excels."
 
One area in which he will be tested immediately is gaining acceptance by the Flyers' older veterans. As with Hakstol, Knoblauch never played in NHL nor held an NHL job of any kind.
 
"That may be a hurdle at first," Brown said. "Building trust with your players first and foremost is critical and he is very big at doing that. Once that happens, a lot of hurdles he would face will be eliminated for Kris."