Since entering the NHL in 2008, Kyle Okposo has played for six head coaches. Ralph Krueger is his third one in four seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.
What's different about him?
"Uh ... a lot?" Okposo said. "Where do I start?"
Krueger, a 60-year-old Canadian who played professional hockey in Germany, became a head coach in Austria and then with the Swiss national team that upset his home and native land in the 2006 Winter Olympics. After a brief stint in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, he changed genres, left for the U.K. and became chairman of Southampton Football Club in the Premier League. He said that opportunity was less about soccer than it was about leadership, a virtue Krueger extolled during his time with the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council, which focused on new models of leadership. He had a side gig in 2016 as head coach of Team Europe, a desperate collection of nationally unaffiliated NHL players whom he led to the championship round of the World Cup of Hockey.
Oh, and his 2002 book "Teamlife: Über Niederlagen zum Erfolg" ("over defeats to success") has five stars on Amazon. That, too.
So there's a lot that makes Ralph Krueger different than your typical NHL bench boss. That couldn't be more refreshing for the Sabres.
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"It's definitely a different environment," center Jack Eichel told ESPN. "He does a really good job with the guys in the room. Our opinions really matter to him. When you do that and you incorporate everyone into your decision-making, you get a really good response from everyone. So many things, in a short amount of time, to let us know that we're all in this together."
The Krueger Effect has been transformative. The Sabres are one of the league's biggest early season stunners, with an 8-1-1 record out of the gate, unexpected offensive balance and goaltending ranked in the top five in save percentage (.926).
The changes haven't just been tactical -- though anyone who has seen the Sabres play with the puck pressure, quickness and creativity Krueger demands has witnessed those systemic tweaks -- but are also attitudinal. This is Buffalo. These are the Sabres. The expectation of victory has been antithetical to the franchise, which has the longest active playoff drought (eight seasons) and has never won the Stanley Cup since entering the NHL in 1970.
Yet confidence is found here, in abundance.
"It starts with the guys on the bench. Everyone stays positive. There's not a moment where we feel like we're going to lose a game," forward Zemgus Girgensons said. "It's been like that all season. It's great to see."
Krueger knows that "all season" means, at this point, a minuscule fraction of it.
"The picture is so small that I'm not allowing surprise into my brain at the moment, he said. "We need to stay extremely humble with what's going on here and have respect, always, for the league and opposition.
"It's about constant improvement. Anything else would just be a distraction."
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