New Henderson Silver Knights Head Coach Ryan Craig has plenty of on-ice accomplishments to his name: Stanley Cup Champion, as assistant coach to the Vegas Golden Knights; Calder Cup champion and AHL All-Star, both as captain of the Lake Erie/Cleveland Monsters; and WHL (East) First All-Star Team, as captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
But Craig also boasts an impressive leadership resume. He was the recipient of both the Doug Wickenheiser Trophy and CHL’s Humanitarian of the Year award for the Wheat Kings’ 2002-03 season. He was also a nine-time AHL captain, beginning with the Springfield Falcons in the 2005-06 season and concluding with the Cleveland Monsters in 2016-17, his final season as a player in the AHL.
These accolades, alongside his impressive on-ice career, solidified to the organization that Craig was the right choice for the position.
“I’ve known Ryan for a long time. He’s been a coach in every dressing room that he’s ever been in, as a player in junior hockey, to the American Hockey League,” said Vegas Golden Knights General Manager Kelly McCrimmon.
Craig’s strong track record serves to accomplish two front-office goals for the Knights organization for the 2023-24 season. First, the front office emphasizes that they want to establish success at the AHL level.
“When [a hire] feels this right, it is. He’s been preparing himself to be a coach his whole career,” added Henderson Silver Knights General Manager Tim Speltz.
“He’s going to give us a great opportunity to be successful, and I’m very excited to work with him.”
It’s a mutual vision of success that Craig is eager to get to work on.
“We’re excited to get going here. The AHL is about development. It’s also about winning. We want to [both] develop and win [here in Henderson],” he said.
But the organization also looks forward to leaning on Craig’s mentorship, putting him in a position to help Silver Knights players take steps towards the NHL roster. During his time as assistant coach for the VGK last season, Craig had front-row seats to the importance of callups to a championship team.
“Every point mattered in the standings. [Jiri Patera] got two big wins, [Brayden Pachal] came up in the playoffs,” Craig said.
It’s also an understanding that he can approach from the perspective of a player. In addition to his career 650 games in the AHL, he played 198 regular-season games in the NHL, split between Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. Craig is likewise familiar with taking that step on the biggest stage in hockey, bringing 11 games of NHL playoff experience to the table.
Nothing could be more reflective of the dual imperative for success and development.
“This is a really important position in our organization, and there’s a real mandate to develop players. He’s mentored lots of players, young guys, that are playing in the NHL today,” said McCrimmon.
“And all the players that I’ve crossed paths with have mentioned how much they learned about leadership and about being a pro from Ryan when he was a player with them.”
“He’s learned from his experiences and he’s lived the life that our players are living now, and it gives him the opportunity to be a great coach and a strong mentor,” said Speltz.
For now, though, neither the front office nor Craig are looking too far ahead. The focus right now is on the hard work and preparation that goes into the organization’s offseason, putting the Silver Knights in the best position to succeed for 2023-24.
“We’ll get through development camp. It’ll be a great chance for me to meet some of the players that have either played here or are going to play here,” said Craig.
“We’re going to jump right in here, both feet in. And I’m already looking forward to September.”