|(Credit: Steve Connor)|
First reported by Mike Prater of the Idaho Press and confirmed this morning by 100 Degree Hockey, the Texas Stars will announce the hiring of Neil Graham as assistant coach Monday.
The Idaho Steelheads head coach and general manager has spent four years in the role after being a player/coach for the Steelheads under Brad Ralph and later an assistant. The Stars previous assistant coach, Bob Jones, was hired over the weekend to DJ Smith's staff in Ottawa.
"As an organization, you always look over your shoulder to know what's coming next in terms of coaches," said Texas Stars GM Scott White when reached by phone Monday morning. "There was a lot of movement this year. Derek [Laxdal] and Bob were both involved in searches. We were prepared."
Graham brings seven years of playoff experience as an assistant and head coach in Boise, part of Idaho's 20+ year playoff streak. The Steelheads have made it to the second round each of the last two years with their high-water mark for wins coming in 2017-18 with a 44-20-8 record.
"We've always considered him [for an AHL role]," continued White. "We interviewed him last year for the assistant coaching job. I like that he's got another year of head coaching experience. He's been to Traverse City and development camp. He knows our group well, our players. He and Derek have talked a lot over the last four years. They have a relationship professionally and socially."
100 Degree Hockey traveled to Boise in the 2016-17 season to report on Graham, a story you can read here.
Objectively, it's a great move to bring in Graham from multiple angles. He's an up and coming coach that Texas can hone under Derek Laxdal. With Laxdal's tenure in Texas hitting six years this coming season and the growing potential of an NHL job for him, Texas is well justified in having a good succession plan. In Graham, they have someone who knows the system already, has existing relationships with all the key people, and can hit the ground running on day one.
Further, just as with players, Idaho will get more interest from future head coaching prospects if they know Idaho is a place that Dallas views as a training ground for coaches as well.
White added, "We're about developing people and giving them opportunity when it's deserved. It's a big day for him. It's been his goal to get to the American League."
With the GM role off his plate, Graham will be able to focus on coaching and hone his craft there. White concluded, "Instead of spending two hours working the phones, he can devote that to coaching. He's ready. He'll become an even better coach and he's already a good coach."