Devils Coaching Staff Continues to Take Shape

Catherine Bogart reported yesterday on the “Inside the Devils Blog” that Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald “spoke to the media ahead of the NHL Draft” and addressed the future of Lindy Ruff’s staff.

To begin, former Devils Interim Head Coach, Alain Nasreddine will be returning as an assistant coach next season.

Fitzgerald told Bogart: “He’s very excited about [returning] as are we. When you can keep a young talent like Alain, who did a good job with our group, tough situation, but he handled it well, learned a lot. [He] grew as a coach, young head coach. I think he’s very excited about the opportunity to work with Lindy Ruff. We’re excited about Alain coming back. He takes a lot of pride in growing our young [defense], he takes a lot of pride in working with the penalty kill, and we’re excited to have him.”

The coaching staff, according to Bogart, currently stands at Ruff, Nasreddine and Mark Recchi. She mentioned that the team is looking for a goaltending coach, leading us to believe that Rollie Melanson will not be returning. Likewise, they are looking for a third “eye in the sky” coach. This, added to Recchi’s hiring, would seem to indicate that the Devils have cut ties with Rick Kowalsky as well.

Bogart quoted Fitzgerald as saying: “We’re going through a goaltending coach search. We have to add a third coach, a ‘eye in the sky’ kind of guy. I think Lindy’s narrowed it down. I think he’s going to be comfortable with a person, I just like to sit down and talk with him and then go from there. There’s no rush especially with the draft and free agency coming up. But I don’t think the decision will take much longer.”

The “eye in the sky” coach would be replacing former assistant coach Mike Grier. Fitzgerald confirmed that Grier is not returning for next season.

Fitzgerald said to Bogart: “He was offered to come back, we would have loved to have him come back. He plans on staying home…he’s got young kids, he wants to be around and be a dad. If something comes up that gives him the opportunity to grow more with more responsibilities than we could have offered him then he’ll consider that. But he was offered a spot to come back.”

So, as it stands, the Devils’ coaching staff will consist of a familiar face along with a lot of overhaul. Once the team hires its goaltending coach and third assistant, we will have word for you here.

Devils’ Website Gives Insight into Ruff

In an interesting article posted yesterday on the Devils’ official website, writer Peter Robinson spoke to two of Lindy Ruff’s former NHL players and discussed what he brings to the Devils’ bench. The interviews appeared in an article entitled “Reflections on Ruff.”

The two players Robinson spoke to via text were Jay McKee, who played under Ruff with the Buffalo Sabres, and Dave Lowry, who played under Ruff when the latter was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers. One of Ruff’s players at that time and Lowry’s teammate? None other than current Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald.

Both men have gone into coaching at the junior level. McKee was “most recently the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers” of the Ontario Hockey League, where, Robinson points out, he coached Devils prospect Michael Vukojevic.

Lowry is the coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and his son, Adam, currently is playing for the Winnipeg Jets.

Both men had fond memories of Ruff as a coach, with McKee telling Robinson that “Lindy is a great communicator and his Xs and Os are great too.”

Lowry said “Lindy came along for us at a time when coaches didn’t really associate (off-ice) with the players. Lindy would play golf with us and take part in the occasional card game… that was unheard of at the time.”

But despite that, McKee told Robinson that he didn’t “want to call him a players’ coach (necessarily), because he was never afraid to crack the whip. What he is, is he’s an excellent person, just a good human and he can connect with guys, especially young players.” This is especially appealing to Devils fans’ ears with their core of good, young players and system of prospects.

Another interesting wrinkle that Robinson explores is that McKee played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10, a year following their Stanley Cup win in 2009. That was the year that Fitzgerald moved “into a player development role” for the Pens “after serving an assistant to Dan Bylsma on the Cup-winning squad in 2009.”

McKee said: “I don’t really know Fitzy other than as a player, I played against him a lot, but I will say this, that it’s usually guys like him who make the best GMs.”

McKee also makes mention of Ruff’s ability to adapt, citing the Sabres major playoff runs while Ruff was there. He told Robinson: “the first time, 1999, we got to the Final and really only had one star player and that was our goalie, (Dominik) Hasek. Then in 2006 we had Max (Afinogenov), Chris Drury, Danny Briere, Derek Roy…had we not had four defensemen injured (in the playoffs) and Tim Connolly the (outcome) could have been different (than losing in the Eastern Conference Final). That was all Lindy being able to adjust like he did as a head coach (and have success) with different teams and (installing) two completely different systems.”

Lowry likened it to technology, saying “you need to know the latest, greatest (piece), but sometimes you pick it up just by watching your own kids.”

This information bodes well for fans who were skeptical of this hiring, myself included. Ruff seems, from what his former players say, to be able to connect with the younger players while still maintaining discipline and adapting his coaching as the league changes. You do not last as long as Ruff has in the NHL as a coach – almost 26 straight seasons – and not be good at your craft. This perspective makes things a little more exciting.

In other Devils news, Amanda Stein is reporting on her “Inside the Devils” blog on NewJerseyDevils.com, that Nico Hischier is skating with the Swiss National Team this week.

Starting today (Wednesday), Nico and “Devils goaltending prospect Gilles Senn will join a group of 22 for the” summer Prospects Camp being run by the Swiss National Team.

There are “strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines” being adhered to and “all players involved will be tested for COVID-19 and asked to respect a 1.5-meter distance whenever possible.”

The camp will be bringing in “the best young players in the Swiss player pool, 25 and under, as well as young players from the junior teams.” Hischier, while an NHL player, has competed at the IIHF World Championships with Switzerland and will “help integrate the younger generation” along with Senn and Pius Suter, who recently signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stein said that “the camp will mostly involve practice sessions, as well as a scrimmage at the end of camp.”