It was November 2012 and the season was already a lost cause when Chris Knoblauch entered the Erie head coaching position.
Despite the presence of rookie Conor McDavid, who was given exceptional status to play in the Ontario Hockey League at the age of 15, the Otters were already out of the playoff race, giving Knoblauch the better part of the season to begin to understand the job he was in to seize .
“He came in and learned a lot about the players,” Dave Brown, the Utters’ assistant director of hockey operations and then Knoblauch’s supervising general manager, told The Post on Sunday. “The players learned a lot about him and we were able to see which players were going to work with Kris Knoblauch and which players weren’t. It gave us a real chance to kind of maneuver. And the next year we won  Games, the first year of our program [four-year] A streak of 50 wins”.
Knoblauch was the Otters’ coach for all four of those seasons, leading the team to the Memorial Cup final in 2017 and compiling a 216-83-14 record, and coaching such standouts as McDavid, Adam Pelech, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Connor Brown.
That earned him an assistant coaching job with the Flyers on Dave Huxtol’s staff, which led to a head coaching gig with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, which led to his transfer here.
After the Rangers and coach Gerard Gallant parted ways Saturday after a first-round exit against the Blueshirts, Knoblauch is perhaps the only potential job candidate without NHL coaching experience.
His name is brought up because he is a potential next step on the ladder after Knoblauch impresses him at every lower rung, including within the organization.
In a system not quite full of great prospects, Knoblauch has the Wolf Pack in the third round of the playoffs after winning 13 of 15 to close out the regular season.
Game 1 of the Hartford series will be played against Hershey on Thursday.
According to Brown, Knoblauch is a relationship builder and good with Xs and Os – capable of making the kinds of in-game tweaks that Rangers have been lacking lately.
And his experience handling the circus around a young MacDavid pales in comparison to the bright lights of Broadway.
“He’s definitely a relationship guy,” Brown said. “It’s funny, we spoke two weeks ago and we were talking about something, and he said to me, you can get the same outcome you’re looking for by having the staff take the guy out for coffee for 20 minutes. … Just take the kid out for coffee and you’ll get it.”
Knoblauch has overseen two brief stints behind the Rangers bench already, when David Quinn was on COVID Protocols in 2020-21, and then when Gallant entered Protocols last season.
Both times, it garnered positive reviews, though, of course, it was only a temporary role.
“They’re great,” said Knoblauch’s Rian Lindgren in March 2021 and then Hartford assistant Gord Murphy. “I played with them a little bit in Hartford [in 2019-20] And I really enjoyed them. They are just two amazing people and great coaches. Very easy to talk to. Very smart in the game too.”
The Rangers did not make an announcement regarding the status of Murphy, who was promoted to be an assistant with the Rangers under Gallant, or the rest of the assistant coaching staff.
The natural inclination, given the team’s expectations, would be to assign a name, preferably to someone who has led a team to a Stanley Cup contest before.
But the pool of candidates for this course is relatively short of these, and Knoblauch has built a resume worth considering.
Could he be ready for the Broadway spotlight?
“We’ve been together for 4 1/2 years and I knew it was going to be short,” Brown said. “His ability to change within the game at the moment was very good. He can change the way we play or adapt to what other teams have been doing. I learned that time [in Erie] will be short. He just got better.”