The Toronto Maple Leafs announced the hiring of Spencer Carbery as an assistant coach on Saturday.

The hiring comes as a bolt out of the blue as seemingly no hockey insiders mentioned Carbery as a candidate for an NHL job. It might have something to do with the 39-year-old signing a multi-year contract extension as recently as April of this year with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, who he coached for the past three seasons.

Following a limited playing career spent almost exclusively in the ECHL, Carbery immediately turned his hand to coaching in 2010. After one season as an assistant coach with the South Carolina Stingrays, Carbery was promoted to head coach and Director of Hockey Operations. The Stingrays made the playoffs every season under Carbery’s watch, posting a 207-115-38 record. The 39-year-old was named the ECHL Head Coach of the Year in 2014 and remained with South Carolina for five years until opting for a move to junior hockey.

After one year in the OHL as head coach of the Saginaw Spirit, the Providence Bruins hired the B.C native as an assistant.

Carbery’s rise up the ranks continued.

The Hershey Bears hired him as their head coach the following summer, making him the second-youngest person in the AHL to hold the role at the time. Carbery led Hershey to an impressive 104-50-9-8 record (.658 points percentage) during his three seasons at the helm. Under Carbery’s guidance, the Bears finished atop the AHL standings during the 2020-21 season with a record of 24-7-2 (0.758 points percentage). Hershey allowed a league-low 2.33 goals per game in 2020-21 and ranked eighth in scoring (3.33).

The Victoria, BC was named the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s outstanding coach for the 2020-21 season.

A combination of creating a winning environment and a good track record of developing prospects for the Washington Capitals is why Carbery received a contract extension back in April. He has risen from an unknown assistant in the ECHL to AHL Coach of the Year and an NHL assistant in just 11 years.

What his role will be with the Maple Leafs is unclear at the moment. On the surface, I would not necessarily expect Carbery to be the answer to Toronto’s power-play woes. The Hershey Bears power-play recorded at a little under 18% during Carbery’s tenure, although it did register at its highest rate (18.8%) during the most recent campaign.

It is the penalty kill that flourished under Carbery after struggles in his first season, ranking eighth and second over the past two campaigns at a combined 85%.

After the hiring was announced, Sheldon Keefe described Carbery as possessing, “a great mind for the game along with the necessary work ethic, energy, and communication skills we were looking for. I’m thrilled to have him join Manny, Dean, and myself on the bench this season.”

Carbery also took part in the Maple Leafs 2017 Development Camp as a guest coach before taking on his role in Providence. Development — not just of players but of promising coaching staff personnel — may indeed be the thinking here in hiring a bright and accomplished up-and-comer who can add a new perspective in a number of areas behind the Leafs‘ bench.