North Dakota hockey observers likely recognized something in the Seattle Kraken.

Current North Dakota head coach Brad Berry does. Berry, who served as an assistant coach to Dave Hakstol with the Fighting Hawks, has seen firsthand how Hakstol has evolved as a coach. From Grand Forks, to Philadelphia then Toronto and now Seattle, the current Kraken coach has made plenty of adjustments in his then-rapid rise to the NHL ranks.

“Just with (the Kraken) being a high-pressure team, being competitive, being a system that takes away time and space,” said Berry. “Having a group that plays five men together and having not a lot of space for opponents, in the system, in the offensive zone, neutral zone, or defensive zone, it’s five guys playing with tight gaps and playing a fast-paced game.”

Hakstol coached the Fighting Hawks from 2003 until 2015, when he leaped from the college ranks to the NHL, becoming the first head coach to do so since 1982 when Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson was named head coach in Calgary, and since then only Jim Montgomery made the jump from Denver to the Dallas Stars. With the Fighting Hawks, Hakstol coached 34 future NHLers.

Philadelphia was an adjustment; Hakstol’s Flyers went 134-101-42 in his three-plus seasons with the Flyers, including two playoff appearances, both first round losses. After that, he was an assistant with the Maple Leafs, where he coached the offense.

“With every experience, you build from it and grow from it,” Hakstol said a couple of weeks ago before the Kraken played in Philadelphia. “You learn from both the successes and failures. I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia. As we went through the process, I felt like we had a lot of success and put the pieces in place. In that first job in the NHL as head coach, there are a lot of things I experienced and now can apply.”

Advertising

Hakstol wasn’t an obvious candidate to be the first Kraken coach ever, and to some, his hiring in July came as a surprise. Berry has seen how Hakstol’s coaching style has adapted from his time in Grand Forks to now, where his second time around as a head coach in the NHL is in entirely different circumstances.

“It’s a bit of a transition, but when you look at the NHL now and how young it is, and especially the makeup now with so much college hockey, that’s a huge part,” he said. “They’re relatively young. There are some similar patterns from college to pro hockey; being a coach going to the pro ranks you now just have an 82-game season, you deal with the travel. That’s a lot different.”

Under Hakstol, the Flyers had three winning seasons before he was fired after a 12-15-4 start in 2018-19. Just eight games into his first Kraken campaign, there are similarities to the style the Flyers played with Hakstol at the helm.

Like Berry said, their five-man system — where everyone on the ice is involved — and the focus on gap play is familiar. The Kraken have also showed a tendency to take a lot of shots from the point, and drive offense through its blue liners.

The Kraken’s aggressive forecheck would also be familiar to North Dakota viewers, along with Hakstol’s emphasis on speed, which has taken effect in recent weeks. Almost every practice following the five-game trip to begin the season has been focused on speeding up play, all in an attempt to limit opposing transition.

That’s important for a team that can be so aggressive in its offensive end, and taking shots from the point always allows the chance for a blocked shot to create a breakaway the other way. That Hakstol and the Kraken have adapted is a positive sign of ways he’s adjusted as well.

Advertising

“I think that’s something that grows as the year goes on,” said Kraken forward Morgan Geekie. “The coaching staff is great, the communication is awesome, so trying to get on the same page isn’t as hard as some people may think.”

One element that’s differed has been how many high-danger shots the Kraken have allowed, entering Saturday with the third-most high-danger goals allowed. Compare that with his time with the Flyers where they ranked 12th with the fewest high-danger goals allowed five-on-five. Though, the most recent three games, the Kraken has cracked down on that, so that’s an adjustment closer to his norm.

In a chaotic open to the season, and existing as a team overall, Hakstol’s stoic demeanor has stood out through the madness. Berry will tell you, that’s always been his demeanor — “He doesn’t get too high or too low” — but perhaps in this kind of a setting, that’s really paying off.

“I think he’s super calm,” Kraken forward Joonas Donskoi said earlier in the season. “He has a clear system that he wants us to play with and it’s simple and I like that…. I think that’s the way to approach it as a coach, I like that. … He’s looking at things in a positive way.”

However Hakstol’s tenure ends up in Seattle, there’s a lot he’s adapted from his previous stops. There are shadows of the identities created in Grand Forks and Philadelphia, but Hakstol’s Kraken is something entirely its own.

“They’re a competitive group and have that all-in approach, and that’s something special when you get to build your own team,” said Berry. “When players are coming from everywhere like that, there’s not that history or body of work because it’s so new. … I think he’s done a good job establishing an identity.”

Advertising

Hayes remembered

Both the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers honored the late Jimmy Hayes before their game on Saturday.

Hayes, who played for both franchises, died on Aug. 23 at the age of 31, and a few weeks later it was revealed fentanyl contributed to his death. Since then, his parents have spoken out about addiction, an issue that’s been common in the NHL and pro sports with painkillers.

“I hope getting Jimmy’s story out there can save someone’s life,” his father, Kevin, told the Boston Globe earlier this month. “If this can save someone from the pain, great. It’s just so sad. I pride myself on being pretty mentally strong. I’m a street guy. But there’s just no formula for this.”

On Saturday, the two teams wore warmup jerseys that said “Haysey” and “Broadway,” nicknames Hayes had when playing in the NHL.

Eichel movement?

As the Sabres continue their annual weird strong start to the season, the Jack Eichel saga continues to rage on, though perhaps nearing a resolution.

Over the weekend there’s been a lot of talk of the Vegas Golden Knights finding a way to add the former Sabres captain, and they’ve made some moves to fuel that speculation. Add that he’d probably be a long-term injured reserve candidate if he can undergo the surgery he wants in Vegas, they just might make it work financially.

Now that could be scary.