When we compiled a list two years ago of up-and-coming NHL coach and general manager candidates, we noted how familial the hiring practices could be. Since the 2005-06 season, nearly 60% of the coaches hired were what the industry calls "retreads," and it was rare to see an outside-the-box candidate take over the general manager role. More glaringly, the positions had almost exclusively gone to white men.

In the past year, there has been a sea of change across hockey. San Jose hired Mike Grier, making him the league's first Black GM. A historic offseason included six women being promoted to NHL assistant general manager positions; prior to 2022 only one woman held that title in league history. One of the new assistant GMs, Alexandra Mandrycky in Seattle, became the first woman elevated to that position to specialize in analytics. Jessica Campbell was named an assistant coach in Coachella Valley, making her the first woman behind the bench in the AHL. And in the ECHL, Joel Martin was hired in Kalamazoo, joining Jason Payne (Cincinnati Cyclones) as the only Black head coaches in North American professional hockey. Patrik Allvin, who is Swedish, was also hired as GM in Vancouver, giving the NHL two European general managers.

We're starting to see leaders in hockey become more diverse, including diversity in thought process. But for all the progress, it will likely take more time to see some of them in the highest positions, as they continue to rise the ranks.

There are plenty of bright hockey minds working their way up in the sport, and some are more seasoned and ready for an opportunity now. ESPN polled 24 people in and around the NHL -- agents, front-office executives, league officials -- and asked two questions. Who is up next? And who should we be keeping an eye on? We combined that data with input on the politics of hiring cycles, understanding what ownership and people in hiring positions are looking for and which candidates might have backing around the league that elevates them to the top of shortlists. Here are the results.


Ready right now

Andrew Brunette, New Jersey Devils assistant coach

The Florida Panthers changed course to hire Paul Maurice instead of promoting Brunette -- who as an interim coach following Joel Quenneville's forced resignation last season ushered the franchise to its first Presidents Trophy. Brunette took an assistant job in New Jersey and could be next in line to succeed 63-year-old Lindy Ruff, unless another organization scoops him first. Said one player who has been coached by Brunette: "He has a way of connecting with guys. He's a really fun guy but is definitely serious when he needs to. I like his communication style."


Spencer Carbery, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach

The 41-year-old is one of the buzziest names on the coaching circuit -- and that's even before he landed in Toronto, center of the hockey media universe. A few respondents said to monitor Carbery as an option for the Capitals should they make a change. Carbery is thought highly of in the Caps organization after three years leading its top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He has been a quick riser after winning ECHL Coach of the Year (2014) and AHL Coach of the Year (2021). Washington wanted to keep him on, but Carbery took an assistant job with the Maple Leafs in 2021. Since Carbery took over running the power play, Toronto has the league's second-best man-up unit (behind Edmonton).


Jay Leach, Seattle Kraken assistant coach

After four years as the head coach of the AHL Providence Bruins, Leach was hired as one of the inaugural assistant coaches with the Seattle Kraken prior to the 2021-22 season. He was in consideration for the Bruins' head coaching job this past summer after Bruce Cassidy was fired, with the B's picking Jim Montgomery. Leach was described by one former colleague as "warm and engaging."

"If you spend 15 minutes in conversation with him, you'll realize he has that 'it' factor," the former colleague said. "Like, this guy is a leader of men. Someone you'd have no problem being front-facing for your organization."