Jessica Campbell mulled for spot on Kraken staff, Dan Bylsma says

Jessica Campbell mulled for spot on Kraken staff, Dan Bylsma says

ByRYAN CLARK

May 28, 2024, 4:09 PM

    SEATTLE -- New Seattle Kraken coach Dan Bylsma said during his introductory news conference Tuesday that Coachella Valley Firebirds assistant Jessica Campbell's name is in the discussion for a similar role at the NHL level.

    Bylsma, who previously coached the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres, has been the head coach of the Coachella Valley Firebirds for the last two seasons. Campbell, who became the first woman to be behind the bench as a full-time coach in AHL history, has worked under Bylsma with her contributions playing an instrumental role in the team reaching the Calder Cup final last season and advancing to the Western Conference finals this season.

    The 53-year-old Bylsma said that he's talked with Kraken general manager Ron Kraken about the possibility of bringing in another coach who could complement Bylsma along with current assistants Jay Leach and Dave Lowry. Campbell, along with fellow Coachella Valley assistant Stu Bickel, have been part of those conversations.

    If the Kraken were to hire Campbell, she would become the first woman behind an NHL bench either as a head coach or as an assistant coach in league history.

    "Jessica has been part of that conversation. Stu Bickel has been part of that conversation," Bylsma said. "What they've done the last two years with developing players down there -- Tye Kartye and Ryker Evans -- is evidence of that. They are part of the conversation about going forward with the staff here."

    The need to find another assistant stem from when the Kraken parted ways with Dave Hakstol after three seasons. Hakstol, who was fired after guiding the Kraken to the playoffs in the 2022-23 season, was dismissed after the team finished 17 points out of the final wild-card spot. The day the Kraken announced they fired Hakstol, they announced they also fired assistant Paul McFarland, who oversaw the team's forwards and power-play unit.

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    Under McFarland, the Kraken went from having the NHL's second-best shooting percentage and tied for the fourth-most goals per game in 2022-23 to finishing with the fourth-fewest shooting percentage and goals per game in 2023-24.

    Campbell, who oversees the Firebirds' forwards and power-play units, oversaw an attack that scored 257 goals in her first season. That was good enough for third in the AHL while their power-play unit was 14th. This year, the Firebirds led the AHL with 252 goals while their power-play unit finished 14th.

    "I think the job she's done now, there's a reason why we hired her," Francis said. "We didn't hire her because she's female. We hired her because we thought she's a good coach. She has an interesting background not only with skating, but skill development. That's been a big part of what they've been able to do with Coachella Valley. She runs the power play, works with the forwards, and works with everybody on helping improve their skating, their skill development and as Dan said both her and Stu Bickel have been a big part of their success down there."

    Campbell was hired in July 2022 by the Kraken to serve as an assistant with the Firebirds. Before joining the Firebirds, she worked as an assistant and a skills coach for the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany. She was also an assistant for Germany at the 2022 IIHF Men's World Championships where she became the first woman on the coaching staff of a men's national team.

    Bylsma told ESPN that he plans on speaking with Lowry and Leach at some point soon. He also said that he's talked with Bickel and Campbell about their career aspirations before he was hired by the Kraken while noting he's also talked to other coaches about next season.

    "I think it's critical for the players, the individuals and for the team to have communication and establish relationships," Bylsma said. "Having trust and building that trust, that's critical for a coaching staff as well. We have relationships, Stu and Jessica. We've established those relationships. I know where they're good as coaches and what they do. They're familiar with me and what I say and how I act. We have those relationships, and every coach needs that. That's a good thing for them and it would be a good thing for our players to see a coaching staff that has those positive relationships."

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