After a year as an assistant coach, Keith McCambridge is back behind the bench as a head coach with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.
"Obviously last year to come in as an assistant coach and build a foundation with the Rangers prospects was good," McCambridge told NYRangers.com in an interview on Monday. "The desire is always in your mind to get back behind the bench as a head coach."
McCambridge, 43, has plenty of experience as a bench boss having coached the Winnipeg Jets' affiliate in St. John's and Manitoba for five seasons beginning in 2011. In his time in the Winnipeg organization, he qualified for the playoffs twice, including an appearance in the Calder Cup Finals in 2014.
Being an assistant coach last season with the Pack affords McCambridge a level of familiarity with his roster. He said he was able to get to know many of the Rangers' prospects both on and off the ice this past season and that there's plenty to be excited about in the group he's inheriting.
"There's a lot of real good, young prospects, some players that when you see how fast they play the game … they really fit into the mold" of what it takes to play in today's NHL, he said. "For me, [last season] was a good experience."
McCambridge said his team will deploy the same system as the one head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff have in New York, making the transition from the American League to the National a seamless one for those who get called up throughout the season.
"The way that I like to coach is we're going to be a team that plays with structure," he said. "It's not just about the games for me. It's about practices as well. It's about making sure these players come to the rink trying to get better. We want to squeeze every piece of talent" from them to prepare them for New York.
Chris Drury, the Rangers' assistant general manager, is heading into his first season as the GM of the Wolf Pack. He said McCambridge's experience made him an ideal coach to fill Hartford's vacancy.
"He's a good coach. Having worked with him last year and seeing what he did behind the bench for our Dmen is a very positive thing," Drury said. "I think having a guy with his experience, not only as a player but as a coach and a head coach in a lot of different environments and different places, is going to be very valuable for our guys."
Drury - who met McCambridge after he was hired as an assistant last summer - said one of McCambridge's best skills is his ability to communicate to his players in a positive manner, which is especially helpful when dealing with young players while also with the goal of being competitive.
"He's a good communicator and a good teacher," Drury said. "He understands the balance of developing players and winning games in the American League. I think we both share the common goal of getting young players to play meaningful games."
McCambridge said he's most excited for having the chance to mold many first and second-year players on Hartford's current roster, including Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves, Vince Pedrie and Brandon Halverson, as well as the still-young Ryan Graves and Adam Tambellini.
"What really makes me excited is because of the youth," McCambridge said, "there's an opportunity to teach them and develop them for the Rangers."