Speculation suggests there’s a decent chance the Flames will add Ryan Huska to Bill Peters’ coaching staff in the near future.
Knowing that, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at Huska’s tenure with the organization. In his four years as head coach of Calgary’s American League affiliate, Huska’s work has been largely positive, especially in one key area.
Assessing a minor league coach is a little bit of a different exercise than doing so at the highest level. By and large, the primary measure of success for an NHL coach is results, whereas wins and losses are only part of the evaluation in Huska’s case. Just as important for an AHL coach is the job they do developing players for the next level, which is where I believe Huska has done his best work.
On the one hand, Huska’s teams in Adirondack and Stockton have never finished below .500 in his four years behind the bench. On the other, Huska has coached a team to the playoffs only once; the Heat went out in the first round of the 2017 postseason.
Discussing AHL results is really interesting. If you talk to anyone with the Flames, they’ll tell you how important winning is in creating a positive culture up and down the organization. I agree with the premise, because there’s value in young players getting meaningful game experience, even at the minor league level.
Conversely, American League success can be fleeting. With cyclical and ever changing rosters, it can be difficult to post consistent results without loading up on veteran minor leaguers. That model is employed by AHL teams like Hershey, Chicago, and Wilkes-Barre, and it’s why those groups make the playoffs on a perennial basis.
Calgary’s model with their affiliate is a little different, as they prioritize development spots for younger players over more capable minor league veterans. That’s why it’s important to take results into context when evaluating Huska’s time with the Flames. I’m far more okay with a competitive, but not spectacular, win-loss record knowing how the organization has structured their top affiliate.
As stated, Calgary has placed more weight on using their AHL affiliate to prepare players for the big team. This is the area where Huska has done his best work, as we’ve seen numerous players effectively step into roles with the Flames without a huge learning curve.
We had an immediate example of that in Huska’s first season, as a ton of players made their NHL debut during Calgary’s surprising 2014-15. Seeing as how everything that year was seemingly a misnomer, though, I wouldn’t use it as an accurate barometer. Instead, I look at the last few years since the team has moved to Stockton and some of the players we’ve seen graduate.
Mark Jankowski. The gentleman pictured above spent a full AHL season under Huska before making the jump to the Flames this year. While there were certainly dips in Jankowski’s rookie NHL campaign, he still finished with 17 goals in 72 games playing the hardest forward position the entire way.
Garnet Hathaway. While there are conflicting schools of thought on how effective a player Hathaway is, you can’t deny he’s developed as a player. After spending his first three pro seasons largely under Huska in the AHL, Hathaway played 59 games in Calgary this season and showed flashes of being effective beyond buzz words like banging, crashing, grit, and energy.
Brett Kulak. Kulak is a real development success story for the Flames. The 2012 fourth round pick started his professional career the same time Huska started his tenure and has taken meaningful strides every single year. This past season was Kulak’s first spent entirely in the NHL after a slow but deliberate development curve helmed by Huska the entire way.
Rasmus Andersson. In just two seasons with the Heat, Andersson has shown huge signs of growth and now looks ready to crack Calgary’s NHL roster full time. In two AHL seasons under Huska, Andersson jumped from 22 to 39 points and played some of the most important minutes on the team. And, in 10 games with the Flames, he showed plenty of signs he’s ready for prime time.
Of course, it’s hard to truly gauge how much impact a coach has in developing any one player because so much of it based on the individual. However, Huska’s role can’t be totally dismissed either and that’s why I think he’s done a solid job accomplishing his goal of readying players for the next level.
After seven successful seasons as head coach of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, Huska was ready to make the jump to professional hockey. Four years later, I think his AHL resume in Stockton and Adirondack suggests he’s probably ready for another step. If he’s indeed in the mix to be an assistant with the Flames, I think it would be a solid choice for the organization.