Wolf Pack surge to Atlantic Division finals as Knoblauch rumors swirl

MISSISSAUGA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Coach Kris Knoblauch of the Erie Otters gets an explanation of a call for the referee during OHL game action on November 27, 2015 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
MISSISSAUGA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Coach Kris Knoblauch of the Erie Otters gets an explanation of a call for the referee during OHL game action on November 27, 2015 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /
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For several reasons, Kris Knoblauch is in the mix to be the 37th coach in New York Rangers history. Yes, Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury fired assistants Mike Kelly and Jim Midgley on Tuesday, only keeping Gord Murphy, who previously worked with Knoblauch and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, on board.

True, Drury handpicked him to become the coach of their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, in 2019.

He also has some NHL experience, assisting Dave Hakstol’s Philadelphia Flyers in the two seasons before landing the Hartford job. Before his Philadelphia stint, Knoblauch coached the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters from 2013-2017, taking the team to the Memorial Cup Final in 2017 and accumulating a 216-83-14 record. He took a league laughingstock and coached them to success while helping NHL stars like Connor McDavid, Adam Pelech, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome, develop.

In 2023, Knoblauch has kept that touch with the Wolf Pack and has led them on a captivating run through the Calder Cup playoffs. Dating back to the end of the regular season, Hartford has won 15 of their last 18 contest, including a 5-1 start through two rounds in these playoffs, the first for the franchise since 2015.

After a two-game sweep over the fourth-seeded Springfield Thunderbirds(ST Louis Blues affiliate) in round one, the Wolf Pack dethroned the division champion and Eastern Conference-best Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins affiliate) 3-1 in the best-of-five Atlantic Division semifinals.

The triumph sets up a date with the second-seeded Hershey Bears(Washington Capitals affiliate) in the best-of-five Atlantic Division Finals, beginning on Thursday.

While Drury has recently sent the best of the Rangers farm over to Hartford, this team isn’t laced with talent. They run the same system as recently axed Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. But throughout their playoff run, Hartford has adjusted in ways he couldn’t against the New Jersey Devils, and it’s paid off.

The Wolf Pack have played aggressive defense and brought a different strategy to each series thus far. Structurally sound, they dispatched the Thunderbirds(6-1, 7-1) through their skill and the Bruins with their will.

They’ve also navigated through a heap of roster turnover. It’s an ever-changing locker room that hasn’t skipped a beat and now finds itself two rounds away from history after pulling off one of the greatest upsets in franchise history.