The Maple Leafs continue to strip mine the OHL for managerial and coaching acumen, scooping up recent Memorial Cup champion and now-former Oshawa Generals head coach DJ Smith as an assistant coach on Mike Babcock’s staff.
This is a merited hire of an up and coming NHL coach who has put in his time in the OHL, thrice winning the ultimate prize in junior hockey (two Mem Cups as an AC, one as HC). There is little to no connection to Babcock here, other than the odd occasion when the Spitfires used to practice with the Red Wings. Young by NHL coaching standards, Smith will be seeing this as a good opportunity to develop under one of the best HCs in the NHL while knowing there is considerable built-in job security with Babcock’s long-term contractual commitment in Toronto (no concerns about the Steve Spott scenario repeating itself).
In terms of connections to Toronto – Smith played 11 games as a call up for the Leafs in his playing career, spending most of six seasons with the St. John’s Maple Leafs. As far as coaching connections to any current Marlies or Leafs, Tyler Biggs played for him on the Generals in 2012-13, and Richard Panik played for him on the Spitfires in 2009-10.
With Smith as his assistant, the Spitfires turned into an absolute power house under head coach and part-owner Bob Boughner between the seasons 2007-08 to 2010-11, boasting alumni such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Adam Henrique, Jordan Nolan, Zack Kassian, Cam Fowler, and, later on, first-round drafted prospects Austin Watson, Kerby Rychel, and Jack Campbell. The Spitfires won back to back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010.
As head coach of the Oshawa Generals, Smith posted a 132-53-16 record, progressing from a second-round playoff exit in 2012-13, to a Conference Finals exit in 2013-14, to an OHL and Memorial Cup championship in 2014-15. Among those drafted off those Generals teams: Scott Laughton, Boone Jenner, Michael Dal Colle, Cole Cassels, Lucas Lessio, Hunter Smith, Colin Sullentrop, Josh Brown, Daniel Altshuller.
It’s not yet known what his specific role will be on the bench, which likely be hashed out once the whole makeup of Babcock’s coaching staff is known and they sit down together as a staff later in the summer to decide on responsibilities. If these numbers are any indication and knowing his history as a player, he’ll be working on the defensive side of things:
In the broader sense, the Leafs are adding a 38-year-old coach with a good reputation as a player developer and a winner of championships as they go about this process of a rebuild and youth movement. This is another addition of a bright young hockey mind that fits the plan of growing with the team and “developing people,” to borrow the words of Mike Babcock.
Babcock told me last week he wants to hire guys who are going to be NHL head coaches. Pretty good track record (MacLean, McLellan, Peters).
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 30, 2014
Among the other assistant coaching hires, Damien Cox confirmed yesterday that Jim Hiller (assistant to Babcock in Detroit) is expected to join the staff in Toronto, which you can read about here from the initial report back in late May. 29-year-old video coach Andrew Brewer, as MLHS first reported on May 24th, will come over from Detroit to join Babcock also.
Leafs have also hired Matthew Herring from the San Antonio @Spurs as their strength and conditioning coach.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 16, 2015