Red Wings: Dan Watson paid his dues and is rewarded with new challenge

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The Detroit Red Wings announced earlier this week that Toledo’s Dan Watson would be the next head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.

It’s been a long time coming for Watson, who spent the last 13 seasons with the Walleye in the ECHL. Watson had been an assistant on former Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill’s staff as he began working his way up the coaching ladder, eventually earning a spot on the Red Wings bench. It’s a pretty cool thing to see coaches working their way up through a team’s affiliate, similar to player prospects.

Watson had been Toledo’s head coach since 2016, leading the Walleye to the postseason in five of his six seasons, with the only miss being universal as the postseason was canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020. Ironically, Watson knows current Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde very well. Watson had been an assistant coach on Lalonde’s staff with the Walleye between 2014-16 before taking over the reins as Lalonde headed to Tampa Bay as an assistant to Jon Cooper. Lalonde helped guide the Lightning to a pair of Stanley Cup Championships before finding a home as the main attraction for the first time in his career on the Red Wings bench.

The Red Wings recently announced Dan Watson will take over the bench in Grand Rapids.

Watson is excited about the new challenge.

“I am extremely excited and honored to become the next head coach of the Griffins,” said Watson. “I look forward to getting the privilege of working with each player to make them better while creating a positive work environment. This is a very important time in the Red Wings organization and a big challenge. We will work hard to put a competitive team on the ice that the fans can be proud of.”

Shawn Horcoff serves as the Red Wings’ assistant general manager. Also, he carries the general manager title for Grand Rapids Griffins, elected not to retain Ben Simon and three of the Griffins assistant coaches following a very disappointing season. The Griffins finished the season with the fewest wins in franchise history (28).

Horcoff spoke fondly of Watson and what he brings to Grand Rapids.

“I’m thrilled to announce Dan as the head coach of the Griffins,” said Griffins’ general manager and Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager, Shawn Horcoff. “He established a tremendous winning culture during his six years as head coach in Toledo through his work ethic, communication skills, and the relationships he built with his players. Dan’s passion for player development and familiarity with the Red Wings organization will be vital assets, and we’re confident his experience will lead to the continued growth of our players in Grand Rapids.”

Watson will be tasked with getting the Griffins back on track. Grand Rapids is the pipeline of prospects and veteran reserves for the Detroit Red Wings, so it is imperative the coaching staff in Grand Rapids is in conjunction with what Lalonde is running with the big club. If the Red Wings can remain somewhat healthy next season, the Griffins should have a plethora of talent for Watson to work with.

Toledo’s goaltending tandem from a year ago of John Lethemon and Sebastian Cossa is expected to make the jump to Grand Rapids along with newcomers William Wallinder, Simon Edvinsson, Carter Mazur, and possibly Marco Kasper depending on how training camp shakes out. The latter three very well may start the year in Detroit but could also begin with the Griffins.

With Toledo, Watson went 272-112-35 overall.

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