All Star coach Knoblauch guiding the Pack to success
After missing the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 6th time in the last 7 years dating back to the then Connecticut Whale, it was obvious that the culture surrounding the top affiliate of the New York Rangers was in desperate need of an overhaul. Among those changes were the dismissal of head coach Keith McCambridge and assistant coach Joe Mormina after a 2018-19 season that saw the Wolf Pack finish dead last in the Atlantic Division for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.
When Rangers President John Davidson announced that more emphasis would be put toward fielding a winning team here in Hartford under his watch, many knew that when the time came to announce a new bench boss for the Pack, it wasn’t going to be made overnight. The announcement didn’t come until July 29th and the Rangers had named Kris Knoblauch the 7th head coach in the history of the Hartford Wolf Pack, Even though the Rangers had taken their time with the decision, many then began to question whether the correct choice was made as he had never been a head coach at the pro level prior to this season.
Building a resume
Prior to his hire by the Rangers, the former 7th round pick of the Islanders had enjoyed a plethora of success in the junior ranks having taken the Kootenay Ice to a WHL title in 2010-11 and the Erie Otters to an OHL title in 2016-17 before joining the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant under David Hakstol for the following 2 seasons. Knoblauch built a proven track record with player development, having coached the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Andre Burakovsky, Dylan Strome and some guy by the name of Connor McDavid.
Through 34 games, the Pack sit atop the Atlantic Division with 45 points and also got off to the 2nd best start in franchise history though the first 9 games going 8-0-0-1. With the Pack holding a slight edge over Providence in the standings by 2 points and the Bruins not playing again until after the New Year, it was announced this past Sunday that Kris Knoblauch would coach the Atlantic Division team at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic in Ontario on January 27th joining North Division coach Chris Taylor (Rochester), Central Division coach Karl Taylor (Milwaukee) and Pacific Division coach Jay Varady (Tucson).
It is clear that Kris Knoblauch is all in with John Davidson’s vision of a rebuild in the organization with not only developing top prospects like goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Adam Huska, forwards Vitaly Kravtsov and Tim Gettinger and defenseman Joey Keane but also pushing players like Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren to the next level thus far. Knoblauch has also been able to get the veteran players on the team to buy into his philosophy with players like Steven Fogarty, Boo Nieves and Vincent LoVerde leading a young crop of players to early season success.
Kris Knoblauch has the Pack taking more chances on offense than in years past with better overall decision making in regards to puck movement and putting shots on goal. Defensively, he has the Pack playing with much more confidence with a proven winner in LoVerde leading the way. Blocking shots, moving pucks away from dangerous areas and jumping on loose pucks to help out Shesterkin and Huska make big saves at key points, particularly when trapped in the defensive zone for stretches of time.
Among the biggest changes that have come with Kris Knoblauch behind the bench is his team being held accountable for their actions, regardless of who it may be. No situation more evident than Vitaly Kravtsov being a healthy scratch in the Pack’s 2nd game of the season after what many deemed to be a lazy and non engaged effort, even sitting key players such as Joey Keane and Mason Geertsen to send a message. Accountability goes a long way in player development. John Davidson has preached accountability in New York and is being echoed here in Hartford.
When the Pack have been in slumps or have made mistakes, he has been quick to call out those mistakes pointedly. Having said that, it’s tough to imagine where this team would be without Kris Knoblauch behind the bench here in Hartford. Just shy of the halfway point of the AHL season, the Wolf Pack are still among the best in the AHL, a place they haven’t been in a number of years. Something they can keep going with the help of an improved pool of prospects waiting in the wings and an All-Star coach in Kris Knoblauch leading the way.