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Seattle Hires Dan Bylsma to Run New AHL Squad

The Stanley Cup champion will be the first coach of the Coachella Valley Firebirds.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

As it turns out, Dan Bylsma had his eyes on the prize for awhile. The former Pittsburgh Penguins coach and Stanley Cup champion had taken a job as an assistant coach with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers this past season, where the team was in the tough spot of repping both the Seattle Kraken and the Florida Panthers. But that would all be changing in 2022-23 with the birth of Seattle's first stand-alone affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds: Kraken GM Ron Francis would need a bench boss in California.

"Much like players wanting to prove to Ron and the Seattle Kraken that they were worthy of playing in the NHL, I had the same approach coaching in Charlotte last season," Bylsma said. "I wanted to prove to Ron I was the guy to be the head coach of Coachella."

And now he is. Bylsma was introduced to the media today, allowing Francis to tick one thing off a big checklist of to-do's during Seattle's off-season.

"It's such a critical part of the process," Francis said. "We draft these young men, we ask them to go play in the AHL to try and develop them to get to the NHL. Having a guy with Dan's pedigree - he's coached at all levels, he's won a Stanley Cup, he's been coach of the year in the NHL - we feel very fortunate we have someone like Dan to lead that charge and help the development of our young players."

And it will be a challenge. Splitting the AHL Checkers with Florida this season meant that Seattle only needed to find eight to 12 players for the squad. Between Coachella Valley and the ECHL (where Seattle is affiliated with the Allen Americans), they'll need 25-30 players. Bylsma, whose first head coaching gig came in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, knows the transient nature of the league well.

"It's one of the challenges of AHL hockey," he said. "You get a different group of players, different mindset and mentality and the goal is to get them all together on the same page and in developing the culture of the Seattle Kraken and Coachella Valley Firebirds. That's what I'm super-excited about, but it's also something I have experience with in Wilkes-Barre for the Pittsburgh Penguins."

It's tempting to look at Seattle's 2022 draft slate - where the Kraken are poised to pick a beefy 12 times, including four times in the second round alone - and assign at least a couple of players who have been passed over before and would therefore be old enough to go straight to the AHL next season - but their GM wasn't taking the bait.

"The priority is to get the best player possible," Francis said. "If it happens, so be it. But we're not going into this draft for Coachella, we're drafting for Seattle."

Having said that, it might behoove the Kraken to keep an eye on, say, Kingston's Lucas Edmonds or Peterborough's Tucker Robertson, just in case. As it is now, some of the top rookies for the Firebirds would be defenseman Ryker Evans (Seattle's second-ever draft pick after Matty Beniers) and Sault Ste. Marie free agent signing Tye Kartye, who is coming off a 45-goal campaign with the Greyhounds.

Since Coachella Valley's arena won't be ready for the beginning of the year, the Firebirds will conduct training camp in Seattle and play their first games in the area. The first true home game at Acrisure Arena will be in December, according to Francis.

In the meantime, Bylsma is excited to build something from the ground up and bring Seattle's culture of smarts, hard work and skating to Coachella Valley. He praised Checkers head coach Geordie Kinnear for being able to pull Charlotte together as a team this past season and seems to have gotten a lot out of his time there, working with players such as Alexander True, Max McCormick and Cale Fleury.

"I love getting in with the guys, building a plan for the guys and giving them direction in how they can succeed," Bylsma said. "That's truly why I enjoyed the experience with the Checkers last year and why I'm excited about the opportunity with Coachella going forward."

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