We’ve discussed the idea before, and I’m happy to see that NHL forwards are hiring their own skilled coaches. A few of them have one. Jordan Eberle works exclusively with Steve Serdachny every summer and has for many years, but Serdachny was the Oilers skills and skating coach as well, up until this fall.
Many players didn’t want a skills coach because they worried it would conflict with what the head coach was saying, but in reality that isn’t the case. A skill coach shouldn’t focus on systems. He focuses on scoring, just like strength coaches help players get stronger and goalie coaches help goalies.
I believe NHL forwards should have a personal skills coach to help them improve and change their offensive game, and one of the most creative NHL forwards the league has seen has been hired by a few players.
Teddy Purcell hired former NHL player and former head coach, Adam Oates, this past summer to help him bounce back from what he said, “was my worst NHL season.”
Purcell struggled last year and he realized he needed to make some changes to his game if he was going to get a new contract in the summer of 2016.
He hired Gary Roberts to improve his training and nutrition, and he hired Oates to help his on-ice skills. Roberts is very popular among NHL players as one of the top trainers in the business. If you want to get in better shape and eat properly you hire Roberts.
The NHL is all about speed. You have to play fast to succeed, but only until recently have we seen offensive players hire a skill coach.
Earlier today, Purcell and I discussed his relationship with Oates.
Gregor: When did you hire him?
Purcell: I met with him this summer when I was training with Gary. It
is kind of like a strength coach, but at first I was worried if I was stepping
toes because I have a head coach and I hired another coach, but he has coached in
the league before and he is not here to change anything, he just wants to add
to my game.
He has worked with Ovechkin a lot, and obviously most of us
aren’t at Ovechkin’s level, but if he can help the top guys why can’t he help
us. Having a down year last year I felt I could use all help and tips I could find.
So far it has been working.
It is a lot of individual stuff. Little things about
positioning and angles. I’m a student to the game and I love watching games and
other players and tendencies and always trying to get better. I think it has
been a good fit.
Part of the contract is we don’t discuss our team’s system. We only discuss my game and how we can improve my play.
Gregor: He has to find things you do well. I assume he doesn’t tell
you to change your style and become a rugged, power forward type player. What exactly does he work on
with you individually?
Purcell: He coached in Washington and New Jersey and they had very
good powerplays. He talks to me about positioning on the powerplay and where
players get their shots off to have success. Small changes that are some times only an inch or two different to put you in a better shooting position.
I used to use a longer stick. Seven games ago I cut it down
four inches. I didn’t think I would be able to do it because I used to be crazy
about my sticks, thinking even cutting it a half an inch was too much. I worked
on it in practice and it has helped.
He showed me clips and I was kind of handcuffing myself, a puck was in tight
and I was looking for it and then I was slow getting out of the blocks to
skate. As a guy who is not blessed with speed like most guys on this team,
anything that can make you quicker is better. I don’t feel I’ve been
handcuffing myself as much since I cut the stick, I’m more in control,
therefore I can get my feel moving and I’m a more effective player.
Gregor: Do you stick handle better with the shorter stick?
Purcell: I do. I feel I’m in
more control. It is closer to my body, I get my shots off better and I feel I’m
getting more pucks on net. Because I’m not reaching and handcuffing myself I’m
in a better position to get more shots through. Maybe times before I thought I
could shoot, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the positioning of the puck or
I wasn’t comfortable with my stick. I don’t know if that is the exact reason,
but as an athlete, as just like you do, criticize and analyze everything, I
think there is a bit of a correlation there.
Gregor: Yesterday Todd McLellan said he believes skaters need to
study the game more to match the work the goalies put in. Are you watching games differently and do you watch more video on other
teams based on the conversations with Adam?
A little bit. As a player you realize the game is changing
and it is getting faster with more transition. I’ve always watched a lot of
hockey before and I’m not watching any more this year, but I do watch it
differently. I look for specific tendencies, and he sends me video of what
other guys are doing to score and get in better positions to score.
How does the relationship work? How often do you talk with
It is not over the top. He has coached in this league and as I mentioned before he
doesn’t want to step on Todd’s toes. He helps me with individual things.
Positioning, where I am on the ice and things that will make me quicker. We don’t
sit down after every game and analyze the tape.
Every four or five games we watch a couple of things. We talk quite a bit. He
watches a lot of games and I watch the other guys that he is working with to
see what they do. I’m studying the game more and I’ve learned a lot. So far it
has been a great relationship and I believe it is helping my game.
The biggest challenge moving forward will be if teams are willing to spend more time in practice working on offensive skills. It would be a huge change in philosophy, and while the goalie equipment needs to be smaller, I believe the NHL has to spend more time working on offensive situations if they want more scoring.
Until the teams are willing to spend more time in practice on individual offensive skill, it is up to the players to do it on their own.
The best goal scorer in the NHL, Ovechkin, has a skills coach, as does Steven Stamkos, and if the best scorers are hiring a skills coach I expect more players will do the same.
Purcell has and he believes it is helping his offensive game. Since cutting his stick Purcell has eight points in eight games. If he continues to play well and produce, Oates is likely to be hearing from more NHL forwards this year or next summer.
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