Could Former National Champion Be New Jersey Devils Next Head Coach?

The New Jersey Devils coaching search this summer should reach far and wide. However, they should look no further to the collegiate ranks for the man who can lead them to a Stanley Cup.
Quinnipiac v Boston University
Quinnipiac v Boston University / Richard T Gagnon/GettyImages

The final nail in the coffin has been hammered in on the New Jersey Devils' 2023-24 season. Just about anything that could have gone wrong went wrong. One of those things that went very - and we mean very - wrong was coaching.

The Lindy Ruff saga was a rollercoaster. Unfortunately for the Devils, the ride ran out of tracks and crashed into a fiery blaze this season. Even after Travis Green was installed as interim head coach, this team never found its juice. They finished out the year playing uninspired, lifeless hockey.

Luckily, general manager Tom Fitzgerald and his staff will have six months to right the ship. The first thing on his docket will be finding the next head coach who can lead a promising group to the next stage of its evolution.

We've talked about why the Devils job is one of the best, a few of the options, and even focused on one in particular, but now we're looking at a potential outside-of-the-box candidate. That man is Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold.

Pecknold has had himself a hell of a career at Quinnipiac. He took over as their head coach all the way back in 1994-95 when they were still a Division II team. It took him four years to get them to become a Division I school, and for the last 25 years, he's built them into a powerhouse program. The 57-year-old Pecknold has an incredible 641-346-106 record, good for a 0.640 winning percentage.

Two reasons in particular stand out about Pecknold and why he could make a great fit for the Devils. The first is his proven track record of building up a program from scratch and being capable of getting them over the hump. While the Devils are no longer in "rebuild" mode, they are far from a finished product and need a coach who can get the most out of his players while also not having his messaging go stale.

This feeds into the second thing that stands out about Pecknold. He has seldom had the superstar talent that the other big players in college hockey do. His Quinnipiac teams have been able to go head-to-head with the likes of Michigan, Boston College, Boston University, and Denver without having high-end draft picks like other programs. He's been able to coach up undrafted players like Collin Graf, Jacob Quillan, and Yaniv Perets into pivotal contributors to a National Championship-winning team. Despite the lack of upper-echelon talent, Pecknold has continued to put out competitive teams and win hockey games.

After 29 years of grinding at the collegiate level, Pecknold was finally given the chance to be the head man behind the bench for Team USA at last year's World Junior Championship. All he did was lead the U.S. to a bronze medal. With Team USA, Pecknold showcased that his collegiate system works in international play and also that when given an abundance of talent, he can properly utilize everyone to play to their strengths.

Out of all of the potential head coaching options for the Devils, Pecknold would actually be one of the safest. He's shown that he can get the most out of less talented players while also being able to coach and win with the best of the best. However, pulling coaches from college has been hit or miss in recent years. The New York Rangers pulled a once-rising head coach David Quinn from Boston College, and he went three playoff-less years before being fired. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dallas Stars hired Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver after winning the National Championship. He had two great seasons before an off-the-ice incident got him fired, but he has bounced back to win a Jack Adams trophy with the Boston Bruins.

The biggest issue with hiring Pecknold is trying to pry him away from Quinnipiac. He had cemented his legacy as the head coach there, and he may not want to leave the program that he's been with for almost 30 years. However, what is working in the Devils favor is the proximity and quality of the job (and the money that comes with it). A move from Connecticut to New Jersey is nothing major compared to most other teams in the league. Also, as mentioned earlier, the Devils have a lot of pieces in place to win now and just need the right man behind the bench to put it all together. Out of all the names that will be thrown around in the Devils head coaching search, Pecknold may be the most intriguing one.