How Quinn will handle Sharks' youngsters based on Rangers tenure


“I'm very curious to see what he takes from his experience with the Rangers and how he can become a better coach now in his second go-around. I think it really was a learning experience for him.”

That’s New York Rangers beat reporter Vince Mercogliano of USA Today, looking forward to what David Quinn does with the Sharks.

Sharks fans don’t seem to be as excited.

Quinn, most recently head coach of the Rangers from 2018-21, is set to replace Bob Boughner behind the Sharks’ bench. Quinn went 96-87-25 in the Big Apple, missing the NHL playoffs in all three seasons.

He’ll be introduced to San Jose media this coming Tuesday morning.

Sharks fans are seeing shades of Boughner in Quinn: Boughner, like Quinn, flamed out in his first stint as an NHL head coach with the Florida Panthers, then couldn’t get the Sharks back into the playoffs in his two and a half San Jose seasons.

Fans, of course, always want “the guy with the fresh ideas,” your Ryan Warsofsky or Spencer Carbery, who have no NHL head coaching experience but tremendous success below that rung -- or your proven vet, your Gerard Gallant or Barry Trotz.

Quinn, of course, was once “the guy with the fresh ideas” when the Rangers hired him in May of 2018.

So he wasn’t the next Jon Cooper. Not everybody can jump from a lower league to two Stanley Cup Final championships, two Cup final losses and two conference finals losses, all in the span of just nine full seasons, like Cooper did.

Sharks general manager Mike Grier’s hope, instead, is that Quinn can follow the path of Gallant or Craig Berube or Mike Sullivan or Claude Julien, head coaches who failed in their first (and sometimes, second) NHL stop before finding undeniable success behind the bench.

So what does Mercogliano think that Quinn has to learn this time around? Are Sharks fans justified in their lack of excitement about this hire?

I spoke with Mercogliano in a two-part series, and while his answers won’t reassure Sharks fans, it was a fascinating, balanced conversation that points to things that might make or break Quinn’s tenure with the Sharks.

In Part 1, I talk to Mercogliano about Quinn’s handling of the Rangers’ youth.

Mercogliano, on Quinn’s reputation for benching young players quickly because of on-ice mistakes: I think sometimes he might have been a little too quick to penalize them or cut down on their ice time. It made some guys feel like they were walking on eggshells a little bit.

Takeaway: Mercogliano was referring to, in particular, a handful of young skill forwards like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Lias Andersson, who did not necessarily flourish under Quinn.

Kakko seemed happier to play for Gerard Gallant this past season, telling Finnish press: “The first mistake does not immediately put you on the fourth line.”

Uh oh, William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau and company.

That said, let’s not pretend that Quinn was holding back a handful of Connor McDavids from taking over the league: Kakko averaged a minute more of icetime under Gallant as compared to his last season with Quinn, Lafreniere and Chtytil’s ATOI was virtually identical from Quinn to Gallant. Gallant also had the benefit of an extra year of maturity from these top draft picks. None of these forwards are proven top-six material yet.

As for Kravtsov, he was in the KHL this past season, putting up 13 points in 19 contests after a 20-game NHL debut with the Rangers in 2020-21, and Andersson has yet to establish himself as an everyday NHL player even after getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario, in some ways: Could any one of these youngsters blossom into playoff-caliber, two-way forwards more quickly with more rope from Quinn? Possibly.

But there’s also nothing that suggests that Quinn has “ruined” anybody. Benchings and making young players earn more ice time are common teaching tools for any head coach, from Quinn to Gallant. 

A benching gets a player’s attention and lets him know right from wrong on the ice -- limiting ice time also protects a youngster from being out of his depth on the ice.

Now there’s a balance with that -- you can be too punitive. Kakko clearly thought Quinn was that. But it’s not as simple as letting the kids play either. In my mind, that’s an invitation for molding bad habits and can ruin confidence too.

Mercogliano: Pavel Buchnevich is a guy that Quinn gave a lot of tough love to. But now you look at Buchnevich in St. Louis, he's a point-per-game player who's really good defensively turned into a penalty killer under Quinn [in 2020-21]. I don't think anybody ever thought that he was going to be a guy who killed penalties.

Quinn harped very much on the finer points of the game, being defensively sound, being structurally sound, playing physical. He's going to demand that anybody in the lineup plays that hard game, gets to the net, does all the right things defensively, wins battles along the board, is willing to sacrifice their body.

You're going to have a hard time earning his trust if you don't do those things. I do think that it paid off for some of the Rangers players who developed into better all-around players under him.

Takeaway: The flipside to Kakko and company is this: Quinn has made young forwards better in New York.

It’s easy to let a young skilled forward in the lineup when there are no stakes -- Bordeleau, for example, this past season for the Sharks -- and get entranced by the points that he puts up. But that doesn’t necessarily make a winning NHL player yet.

I will add too, by “playing physical,” Mercogliano doesn’t mean that an Eklund will be expected to become a bruiser.

Buchnevich, for example, isn’t hitting everything in sight in St. Louis. Physical just means a willingness to get inside, take a hit to make a play. That’s a prerequisite for winning hockey.

I’m not saying that Quinn pressed all the right buttons in New York -- he’d still be there if that were the case -- but remember, his goal is to mold winning hockey players, not to let the inmates run the asylum.

Mercogliano, on the young defensemen who emerged under Quinn in New York: You could look at some of the young defenseman that developed under Quinn.

Adam Fox stepped in as a rookie and was playing on the top pair. Ryan Lindgren stepped in as a rookie and was playing on the top pair. K'Andre Miller stepped in as a rookie and was getting nearly 20 minutes a night.

Takeaway: It’s patently false to say that Quinn doesn’t like young players, which I’ve heard floated.

How did Fox, 22, win a Norris Trophy under Quinn? How did Lindgren, 22, and Miller, 21, hit 20-plus minutes a night on the backend under Quinn?

This isn’t even mentioning the emergence of goaltender Igor Shesterkin, 25, as the Rangers starter in Quinn’s final season.

People will say, ‘Well, Fox and Shesterkin were special.’ Okay, what about Buchnevich, Lindgren and Miller, good young players who aren’t winning individual trophies anytime soon?

My read is that Quinn set a high standard in New York for his youngsters, which is his job. Mercogliano’s point is that maybe Quinn could’ve relaxed that standard here and there, let the kids relax a tad, which is fair.

But this point might also be fair, and we saw it play out to some degree under Gallant this year: Maybe Lafreniere, Kakko, Chytil, Kravtsov and Andersson, a talented bunch for sure, weren’t as ready for NHL primetime as Buchnevich, Fox, Lindgren, Miller and Shesterkin were?

RELATED: How Quinn could have become Sharks' coach back in 2015

Mercogliano, on 'Quinnisms': “Quinn used to always talk about puck management. He used to always talk about a shooting mentality. He wanted guys that aren't going to be hesitant to pull the trigger on shooting the puck. He wants guys who are going to crash the net. He wants guys that are going to engage physically in one-on-one battles. All that kind of stuff, you're gonna hear from him quite a bit.

Takeaway: I’m really curious how Quinn handles Bordeleau. While Sharks fans were dazzled by Bordeleau’s NHL debut this past season, I had a ton of questions about his puck management.

Quinn, who helmed Team USA at the most recent World Championships, wasn’t in love with Bordeleau there, playing him just 3:51 a night in the medal round.

In all fairness to both sides, Chris Peters of FloHockey reminded me that Bordeleau was a 20-year-old trying to navigate a world-class men’s tournament, on a relatively deeper team that added more established NHL players Ryan Hartman and Matt Boldy up front late in the tourney.

Speaking of the organization’s other top prospect, the Sharks have already told William Eklund that they want him to shoot more.

Eklund echoed that at development camp last week: “I’ve been a more pass-first guy my whole life. I have to [transform] that into shooting [more], be a double threat there.”

Just a reminder, eyes on the prize, if Bordeleau and Eklund start the season in the AHL or get benched at some point under Quinn: The point is to make them better players in the long run. They can do that with the San Jose Barracuda or in limited ice time.

I’m actually not worried with how Quinn will handle the Sharks youngsters -- as you can tell, I think that concern is overblown. Quinn isn’t perfect, but his time in New York has shown that youngsters who earn more responsibilities will get it.

“You see the same thing with Gallant. You see the same thing with a lot of NHL coaches,” Mercogliano said. “They demand 200-foot players, they want guys to play a two-way game, and don't sacrifice anything on defense. I think that's very much what you're going to get in Quinn. I think with a younger roster, maybe that will help mold younger players into better all-around players.”

I have more questions about how Quinn will handle his veterans, which I’ll talk about at San Jose Hockey Now shortly.

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