It’s not often that an AHL assistant boasts a coaching resume that includes a Stanley Cup, an Olympic head coaching gig and eight seasons as a bench boss in the NHL. But the addition of Dan Bylsma to the Charlotte staff could be a key component of navigating this unique season.
The Checkers enter this season with two NHL affiliates – the Florida Panthers, who they officially partnered with starting in 2020, and the Seattle Kraken, whose AHL team in Palm Springs is set to begin play next season.
Geordie Kinnear has been at the helm of Florida’s farm team for five seasons now, but the addition of Seattle to the mix meant that the Kraken were able to appoint an assistant coach to join his staff in Charlotte.
They turned to Bylsma, who will now play a role in developing Seattle’s first group of prospects, cultivated from across the league.
“From Seattle, these are guys that we’re seeing for the first time,” said Bylsma. “There’s a few that you knew and saw their jerseys, but for the most part every guy in the room is a new face. The challenge is coming together and building how we want to play and how Seattle wants to play into these players.”
Working directly with prospects at this level is something that Bylsma hasn’t done in some time – after three seasons as an AHL assistant, he served as head coach for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2008-09 before a midseason promotion to Pittsburgh. But the commitment to development has long been a focus of his.
“I’ve always taken the stance of developing players and developing people, whatever team or level that’s at,” said Bylsma. “We’re coming here to develop these young kids. I don’t think it’s changed in any type of way.”
Even the challenge of a dual affiliation is something that Bylsma has familiarity with.
“I’ve had some experience in the past in Wilkes-Barre, we had a dual affiliation with Edmonton,” he said. “They brought in a couple handfuls of kids to that team. You’re bringing them together and developing as one to get to their ultimate goal of getting to the NHL.”
Bylsma gives the rest of the Charlotte coaching staff a direct line to the Seattle organization and their philosophies, something that can help things mesh at the AHL level.
“They’re going to have their systems and we’re going to have ours,” said Kinnear. “So to have insight on what the players are thinking in this defensive situation or in the neutral zone or offensively, we can bridge that gap a lot quicker. If I was always guessing what they were thinking, I wouldn’t know. Dan can bring clarity to that.”
Both Kinnear and Bylsma have been quick to point out their commonalities as they work to join forces on a singular staff.
“We both have open minds and we’re life-long learners,” said Kinnear. “It’s been great. We’ve been here all day, every day talking about hockey, and I think that’s the best way to learn. I think we’re very fortunate to have Dan and we’re very excited to build something here.”
“I met him and played with him briefly a long time ago, so just getting back talking with him it felt like I’ve been with him for a long time,” said Bylsma. “Our coaching styles and messages mesh really nicely. It’s only been a few days but talking with him and developing a message for our guys has been seamless.”
While a dual-affiliation certainly brings with it some unique challenges, the addition of Bylsma and his pedigree should not only be a key resource for the Kraken, it helps bolster Kinnear’s ultimate message of unifying his group as a single entity – the Checkers.
“It’s great, we’re incredibly fortunate that we get both of those coaches out there,” said forward Henry Bowlby. “They’ve got a ton of knowledge. We’re just trying to pick up everything they’re saying and taking those things to heart.”