IF YOU LOOK closely enough, or catch him with a poorly worded question, it's not hard to see a little of Mike Babcock in Dave Hakstol.
And it's not only the well-coiffed, strawberry-blond hair that conjures the resemblance.
Talk to former players and they'll tell you about Hakstol's icy stare, one of the few in hockey that could give Babcock's menacing mug a run for its money.
"That stare," one player told the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, "will penetrate the back of your helmet."
Chris VandeVelde, who netted a career-best nine goals for the Flyers this season, shuddered at that stone-cold glare a few times over his four seasons playing for Hakstol at the University of North Dakota.
"He's a pretty intimidating guy," VandeVelde said. "At the rink, he's pretty business. He doesn't like to stray away from the plan. When practice is over, he'll come and laugh with you or chat with you. But when we're working, he's all business."
Hakstol looks like Mike Babcock. He acts like Mike Babcock. He is a nononsense, anti-cookie-cutter coach who enjoys questioning the status quo and the way "things have always been done."
In a lot of ways, the Flyers' newest coach is Babcock Lite.
"I hope in this case we have another Mike Babcock," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said.
That the Flyers ended up with a coach whose style is similar to Babcock should not be all that surprising. After all, many thought Babcock was the Flyers' top choice to become the 19th head coach in team history. It probably is no coincidence that Hakstol was officially hired yesterday, a day after Babcock returned stateside after a week in Prague, watching the World Championships.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall declined to discuss specifics of the 31-day process to fill the vacancy that will help shape his legacy, saying only that Hakstol was the "target all along." Hakstol's former assistant, Brad Berry, said yesterday the Flyers made two unsuccessful attempts to land Hakstol before they reached agreement on the third try.
The buzz around Philadelphia yesterday was partly negative, not necessarily because the Flyers hired a coach with zero professional hockey experience, but simply because it was not Babcock. His yearlong flirtation with free agency fabricated a dream of him turning around a Flyers franchise desperate for direction.
Yet, as Hextall went through his checklist, he said he found the only box left unchecked was NHL experience.
"Quite frankly, for me, that was the least important," Hextall said. "Every head coach in the NHL is a rookie, as some point, right?"
Hakstol, 46, is the first head coach to make the jump directly to the NHL from the NCAA since "Badger" Bob Johnson climbed from Wisconsin to Calgary in 1982. He led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 1991. Only one other person (Ned Harkness) has done it without pro experience, and he lasted only a half season with the Red Wings.
But keep this in mind: Hakstol already advanced to two Frozen Fours with North Dakota in 2006 by the time current Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper decided to give up his job as a public defender in Michigan to coach in the NAHL, a feeder U.S. junior league where Hakstol recruited players. Cooper, 47, is considered one of the best young coaches in the NHL - and he's a year older than Hakstol.
The biggest question facing Hakstol is not about strategy, his ability to handle the media, an 82-game season, the extensive travel or the pressure-cooker of coaching in a league in which average life span is 200 games.
No, Hakstol's only challenge will be whether he can capture the attention of his millionaire players to squeeze every last drop out of them. That, perhaps, is where he most resembles Babcock - and what the Flyers most need from his skill set.
Cooper is a natural. Mike Keenan, whom the Flyers hired out of the University of Toronto in 1984, was a drill sergeant and led them to two Stanley Cup finals in his first three seasons. Inexperience does not equal failure.
"I think they'll figure out in a hurry who's in charge," Hextall said. "He's very commanding, very demanding. He gets the most out of his players. He doesn't accept mediocrity. He doesn't accept an off night. I think it's one of Dave's finest qualities."
VandeVelde said Hakstol has a "way of getting guys to work for him." This past season's Flyers proved they could beat the Stanley Cup contenders, but missed the playoffs because of how they competed against the Connor McDavid competitors. The Flyers crave an identity. At North Dakota, Hakstol's players were relentless - and honest.
"I think he brings a good mentality, blue collar, hardworking just like Hextall wants," VandeVelde said. "A lot of his teams up there were talented, but some teams were mediocre that he turned great. I'm sure there's some skepticism out there, but I have no doubt he'll have success with Philly. I think he'll do a great job at the next level here."
There will be hiccups for Hakstol. Every rookie coach has them. As Hextall said, the NHL is not a developmental league. But the truth is Hakstol wasn't hired yesterday for a quick fix tomorrow. The real hope here is that Hakstol will have worked out the kinks by the time Hextall's long-term vision has fully flourished.
"I don't have experience at this level, so I'm not going to pretend that I do," Hakstol said, that glare already crackling through. "I do have a great deal of confidence in what we do, in what my philosophies are and in the fact that they're going to be successful here. I can sit and say whatever I want here today. Bottom line is I have to go out and do the work."
On Twitter: @frank_seravalli