Granted, they might be a little biased. Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie played for new Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol at the University of North Dakota. Hakstol helped prepare both All Stars for their NHL careers.
Still, it speaks volumes that some of the league’s most prominent players believe in Hakstol’s ability to make the jump from the college ranks to the pros. In fact, Oshie went so far as to suggest that perhaps it should’ve happened a lot sooner, as the St. Louis Blues winger told Dan Rosen for NHL.com.
“With how many coaching changes there have been in the last couple of years, and I was actually surprised he hadn't been hired yet,” Oshie said. “In my mind I figured it was his decision, and I know how much he loved North Dakota. It's not going to take long for the players to respect what he brings to the table and to want to play for him.
Then there is Toews. Few players in the NHL are more decorated than the Chicago Blackhawks captain—a five-time All Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time Stanley Cup champion (possibly working on his third) and a winner of the Smythe and Selke Trophies. This is a guy who knows a thing or two about the game, and he too was effusive in his praise for Hakstol, via Tim Panaccio for CSNPhilly.com.
“I got a couple of texts from old teammates this morning,” Toews said. “Pretty cool thing. Obviously, very happy for him and I’m sure he’ll do great. He’s had a lot of success at the college level. Never found a way as a head coach to win a national championship but he was very close many times.
“But I think that’s an opportunity definitely earned. I think he’ll seize it and do well. Pretty happy. It was fun to play for him in North Dakota and it was important years for my career. Nice to see him have that success, get recognized and get the opportunity at the highest level.
Of course, it’s no surprise players would go out of their way to say all the right things about a former coach. If you’re skeptical of the Flyers’ hire now, a few remarks by some NHL veterans who are used to being grilled by the media isn’t likely to change your mind.
Yet it’s not just Toews’ and Oshie’s words that serve as an endorsement of Hakstol here. They are just two of some 20 players that made the jump from North Dakota to the NHL in 11 seasons under Hakstol, according to Puck Daddy, a list that includes other notable names such as Minnesota Wild All-Star winger Zach Parise, Los Angeles Kings two-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman Matt Greene and Philadelphia Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde.
The idea that Hakstol would have trouble coaching professionals seems odd. In a way, he already has.
Toews and Oshie don’t have to play for Hakstol again, at least not anytime soon, but VandeVelde does, and as he said on Monday’s edition of Breakfast of Broad, he’s looking forward to it.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Hak,” said VandeVelde. “He’s a great coach and a great guy, even off the ice. He’s a good leader for your team. He’s kind of a no-nonsense guy, straight forward. I think he’s the right fit for sure.”
“I’m sure there’s some skepticism out there, but I have no doubt he’ll have success with Philly.”
There are many variables as to whether Hakstol will have success in Philly, some out of his control. Yet those players who know the head coach best are confident in his ability and seem genuinely excited that he’ll have the opportunity with the Flyers.