Adam Oates: The Skills Coach

Last Friday evening I was lucky enough to get a free hockey skills tutorial from Hall of Famer Adam Oates. Oates was in Edmonton watching one of his hockey pupils, Teddy Purcell. Two weeks ago I wrote about Purcell hiring Oates to be his skills coach, and I when I saw Oates sitting on the catwalk I wanted to find out more about his new business endeavour.

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I introduced myself during the first intermission and explained I wanted to discuss his new career working with Purcell and other NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. He happily agreed and thanked me for the article on Purcell – he had it saved on his phone – and we agreed to meet during the second intermission.

I always prefer interviewing and talking to people face-to-face. The conversation flows easier and you can read their reactions much easier. The moment I sat down to discuss skill development with Oates I knew I was going to learn a lot.

He is extremely passionate about the game. He loves hockey and having been an NHL player and head coach he knows both sides of the student/teacher relationship intimately.

My biggest concern with the state of hockey today is how much more coaching is done to prevent goals rather than score them. Goalies have a goalie coach on the ice with them almost every day. The majority of a coach’s video session focuses more on defending than attacking.

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NHL teams do have skills coaches, but they are at the bottom of the pecking order. If players have extra time before or after practice they work with these coaches, but they aren’t on the ice daily, and unlike goalies, forwards and D-men do not receive 15-20 minutes of one-on-one time every few days to work on their skills.

If we want more scoring in the NHL, or at any level, we need to invest more time with skills coaches. This is why I was excited to speak with Oates.

Gregor: When did you decide to become a skills coach and how did you start?

Oates: In the playoffs last year a couple guys I coached before
reached out to me and asked what I was seeing, but because I was under New
Jersey’s umbrella I couldn’t really talk to them. In the summer, when I didn’t
get the Devils job, I started talking to those players and we talked about me helping them during the summer and during the season and they were all receptive to it.

Then, coincidentally, I was watching the NBA and Lebron
James was on and he was talking about how in between games he works with a
skills coach. The things all connected. I started a business and started
working with players.

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Gregor: We hear players today are more skilled than ever, and I don’t
debate that, but there is much more coaching emphasis on defending than there
is scoring. How come?

Oates: When you are a coach
you spend your entire day watching video how do we prevent that shot, how do we
prevent that chance. You are correct it is an issue. There are a lot of skills
coaches in the world, but I see things others don’t. We all do.

I have found
that the communication I have with players I’ve coached over time, we get along
very well, they like what I bring them, they like the details I have and so far
it is going okay. I know coaches work more on preventing goals, I did as well,
but I’m hoping I can help players find ways to score more. Nothing that I teach
them interferes with the system their coach teaches. I make it clear to my guys
I don’t want to discuss systems. We focus on things that will help their game,
and ultimately that should help them flourish, regardless of the system.

Gregor: How does the evaluation process work with each player you
work with?

Oates: Every guy has a different personality. Some guys want it
every day, others want it once a week, but I watch all their games. Tomorrow in
the morning for instance, if I didn’t have a chance to watch their game I will
have the player’s shifts in the morning on my computer. It is a service
provided by the NHL.

I get to see every guy’s shift. They go to practice and then they call me in
the afternoon and we talk about what I saw. I send them clips, so they can see
what I see, and we talk over Skype. When they are on the road, which is a great
time to meet because they have some down time, so we can spend a little longer
talking about the things in the game, and remind them about the little details.

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Gregor: Teddy Purcell told me you convinced him to cut six
inches off his stick. That is a major change. What did you pick up from
watching him that made you believe this was something he needed to do to
enhance his game?

Oates: Teddy has a great mind for the game and he has fantastic
hands, but when you watch a lot of games you see habits, and I noticed he
needed to be a hair quicker with his decisions. When he has time he’s as good
as anybody, but the game is fast-paced and it is getting faster and he’s
playing with Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl right now and they are a great

We talked about what would it take for him to be a hair
quicker and I showed him some video of where he gets stuck on the ice. Every
single player in the world gets stuck at certain points. I did, maybe Gretz is
the only guy who didn’t, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses and we
looked at areas we could improve. We came to the conclusion we needed to
shorten his stick, so he wouldn’t get stuck when the puck was closer to his

Gregor: Many of your former teammates have told me no one was finickier
with their stick than you. When you evaluate the players, do you talk with them
about the lie of their stick?

Absolutely. We play a sport that has a tool, like a golfer
and a baseball player we have a tool. Growing up with a wood stick I had the
ability to tinker with my stick every day. When I played with Brett Hull we
roomed together, we lived near each other and every single day we talked
sticks. He obviously got it from his father (Bobby Hull), and ever since then I
was a tinkerer. I fooled around with my sticks all the time.

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The guys with the composite sticks don’t have that luxury,
because it is hard to play with the mold and tinker with their tool, but that
doesn’t mean they are using the right sticks. If you look at most half-wall
guys in the league, they are guys who have a really good forehand and backhand,
and you can’t do that if you don’t have a good tool. We start with that kind of
idea and then will filter through their game and when their stick helps them,
hurts them, why and how that creates habits in their game and the blind spots
in their game.

We play a contact game, a fast-paced game and we play in a
land of concussions, so I’m trying to prevent every single blind spot.

Gregor: In the off-season do
you do one-on-one sessions, or is it mainly video?

Oates: Part of the contract is in the summer time they can come to
me or I will come to them. Basically for two months it is unlimited time for
them, how much they want, and every player is different. We spend a lot of time
together, and from my perspective it is private. I won’t tell any other player
what I am doing with any particular player, but if they want to share it that
is their business.

If they want other guys on the ice I will work with them too, and sometimes having
another guy out there actually helps in terms of pace. The players like it so
far. They like the feedback and if they play a bit better it helps everyone. It
helps them, the coaches, the team and obviously it helps myself.

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Gregor: Are you predominantly
working with forwards or do you work with some defencemen?

Oates: I have some defencemen. Being a coach in this league you
have to learn every position. I learned a lot about goaltending being a head
coach. Playing in the NHL I played with a lot of great defencemen, many Hall of
Famers and I’ve learned a lot about their position.

Every player still has angles, reads and we play so much
against the boards. How you play the puck around the dasher is vital in our
game. The more you have success with that the more you are going to be a better
player; at all ages.

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Gregor: Will you expand your company and do seminars
with amateur coaches so they can go back and work with younger kids, and
obviously they can’t work on what NHL players do, but work on basic skill
development at younger levels?

Oates: Absolutely. I’ve actually talked to some people in Winnipeg
with their youth hockey programs in terms of doing some clinics. I have some
guys under my umbrella who I am teaching what I see so they can pass it on to
younger players.

If you have a ten year old, his parents are going to the
store and buying sticks. I want them to buy the right one, because I want them
to improve. We live in a land of concussion and it is a big injury in our sport
and I want them to have the most success they can. Too many young player don’t
have the proper lie on their stick and then end up being too hunched over and
in a position to receive a head shot.

Gregor: Speaking of
concussions, what kind of skill development have you found kids can work on to
help them limit their blind spots?

Oates: I use the backhand. When you think of Wayne Gretzky, Mark
Messier here in Edmonton. Mario Lemieux I played against, Patrick Kane and
Sidney Crosby right now, they are all players who had fantastic backhands and
awareness on their backhands. The pace of their game is so fast, if you have a
good backhand, which I stress, then you are creating more vision, more
peripheral vision in your game and at all levels I stress that.

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Gregor: Do you see yourself always being independent, or if an NHL
team approached you and asked you to be exclusive to their team would you?

Oates: That is tough because the contract I have with players are
all over the league so that would make it very difficult. But, in saying that
most teams have a skilled guy, so I don’t know why it couldn’t get to that
point, but right now I’m enjoying working with the guys and the one-on-one is
very rewarding.

Gregor: If a player is not receptive to what you are showing them,
how do you get them to be receptive to try new things, because a lot of players
are creatures of habit?

Oates: That is a great question because nowadays we use a lot of
video, but my generation we never did. The video doesn’t lie. When I sit down
with these guys it is private, and I’m not a coach yelling at them. I’m more of
a parent where I’m saying, ‘You tell me what you are seeing here. Am I wrong or
am I right?’ The video doesn’t lie, sooner or later they have to admit the
issue. We have a short-term goal and a long-term goal, because it isn’t that
easy to change overnight, but if we can start working in that direction it will
help. I haven’t had any negative feedback thus far, because they video shows
them what I see.

Gregor: Are you looking to
work with draft eligible players, where you wouldn’t necessarily have the same
tape on them, but it is that a scenario that would involve more on-ice work
this summer.

Yes, no question. Some kids in their draft year one of my
assistants works with five teams in Toronto. Players who are at that level where
a little improvement in the season could help their draft. Time is limited, and
as people reach out we are communicating with them and trying our best to
service them.


I watched the third period with Oates and he pointed out subtle small things in players from both teams. It was invaluable, and after speaking with Purcell about Oates it is clear the players enjoy his feedback.

Purcell has been much more effective since cutting his stick in early November. He looks quicker, and he is able to handle the puck better. He is also going to specific areas on the ice in the offensive zone to create more chances. He’s even been physically engaging at times.

Outside of working with players, Oates freelances as a powerplay specialist. An NHL team hired him to come and speak with their coaches for four days about their powerplay and some other offensive zone tactics.

The GM of the team said, “I’m happy my head coach told me he doesn’t know everything and is open and excited about meeting with you.”

Oates replied, “Your coach is lucky he has a GM who will listen when he discusses his weaknesses and not see it as a negative.”

Oates is a PP guru.

If I was Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan I’d consider talking to him. I know they have had injuries, but the Oilers have a lot of skill yet their PP is 18th in the NHL. We can always learn new things, and Oates’ specialty is the powerplay, so maybe he could present some different ideas.

The Calgary Flames should have him on speed dial. They are 30th in the NHL and an embarrassing 11.1% on the man advantage.

Outside of Purcell, Stamkos and Ovechkin Oates works with many other NHL players ranging in skill from first liners to fourth liners. Considering the success his current players are experiencing, you can expect his list of clients to grow this summer.

Oates is currently in talks with a former NHL All-star to join his company, Optimal Player Performance, in the New Year so they can handle the increased demand.

Minor hockey associations or individual players who are interested in having Oates come work with them to improve their skills can email [email protected].


Thanks you Ken and Cory for your bids yesterday and to Hughes Petroleum and the Oil Kings for the great packages.

Today’s Package:

high stick vodka

 You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out M.E. Lazerte breakfast program.

Recently by Jason Gregor:    

  • bradleypi

    If I’m reading this article correctly a lot of what Oates does is help the players “think” the game offensively to counter all the defensive structure in the game now. If this is the case Yakupov needs to spend a summer with Oates. He has the skill, he just doesnt think the game that well.

    Schultz is a write-off.

  • bradleypi

    Great article! One of the best I’ve read on here. I love talking about the details of this great game. I agree that too much emphasis is on defensive play. A pure skills coach would be great. A guy working with yakapov would be invaluable.

    Yakapov has the tools they just need to be refined.

    Calgary at 11% PP. losers.

  • BlazingSaitls

    I really enjoyed this interview. It was a nice relaxing read to cap off the night.

    I was watching Hull on HNIC a week or two ago and he mentioned how Oates is underrated as a Hall of Famer and player. I agree.

    How many Hall of Fame players are broadcasters? We’re lucky as hockey fans to have him share his knowledge so openly. Oates and Elliotte Friedman are the saving graces of a horrid HNIC broadcast.

    Great interview Gregor. Lucky, lucky man to get to hang out and talk hockey with Adam Oates. Score!

  • BlazingSaitls

    I wonder what took Adam so long?

    Same with Hull?

    Or Gretzky?

    Do you expect me to believe that Adam Oates “just created” some NewAge Winning Fo rmula for helping the NHL EveryMan,just decided to pull it out of his Hat huh..Just now he has some epiphany?….lol…that is LAUGHABLE….this article is a cheap advertisement.

    Adam seems to have found a philosophy with concepts and terminologies that allow him to communicate these IDEAS HE COULD NOT COMMUNICATE BEFORE….yes yes yes….Adam Oates…spare
    me…he is no Wayne Gretzky or Lemieux….and I DO NOT FOR A NEW YORK SECOND believe Adam Oates found the Exclaiber Philosophy for teaching hockey ON HIS OWN—-WHO DID HE COPY?…..he doesnt track this way ….simple.

    There is nothing new under the Sun….where did Adam Oates come up with these new ideas and concepts when the career curve does not show a history of this type of white-collar philosophical evolution???Adam Oates and Hull were both DEAD-ENDED CREATIVELY YEARS AGO just like most ex-NHLers… suddenly Oates comes up with a viable business model….based on what? He sure as hell doesnt document a history of developing anything new or impactfull,his career and post-hockey life are an open book,so where did the seed of his intentions come from…..I say again he does not track an evolutionary path of being any type of groundbreaker or innovator.

    Ryan Jones scored a hat-trick 12.02.2011 after following some “free” NHS “equipment adjustment” data and picked up Halls slack for a bit on LW…lol…Adam cant touch that.

    I am not going to overstate the obvious here….lol.


    • The trouble with the internet is it allows anyone to make comments like they are informed. Dont be a hater. If you aren’t a fan that’s fine but I’m sure people like veterans Scott Gomez to the new generation like Mark Scheifele are in a better position to speak of the validity of Oates’ teaching. Do some research and you will find almost every NHL team now uses Oates’ PP. Lemieux you say? Oates had more assists so not completely uncomparible. This isnt the first story on his business, there are quite a few out there, Come on pal, please dont go kick your dog next.

      • BlazingSaitls

        Moma2s NewAge Hockey System and its constellation Programs called Intuitive Dynamic Analysis{IDA} and Intuitive Dynamic Management{IDM} were being utilised on the ice with the Players at the NHL level in 2009 by Pat Quinn and have been the primary driving force of the NHLs evolution since then contributing since 2012 to the last 4 consecutive Stanley Cups won by the Kings and Hawks .

        I am a a fan,I do not dispute the positives Gomez and Sheifele experienced,and I do not question the validity of Oates teaching.

        You do some research and you will find out the Oilers have used the NHS PP to dominate the NHL and it far outperforms anything Oates has come up with hands down.

        Just like Dellows Face-off analysis was his own….lol…that was NHS data….lol….prove to me Oates isnt just another copy-cat with a more legitimate name and Indutry influence….lol.

        Moma2s NewAge Hockey System and IDA and IDM have been round since 2006-2007….these NewAge Philosophies were first actively used in the NHL by Pat Quinn.

        Show me anything Oates did pre-2006 in this field ok?That doesnt carpet-bag in the NHSs tailwind….lol.

        This isnt the first story on Moma2s Newage Hockey System….do some research and go kick puppies somewhere else…lol…or stick around and learn your history correctly.

        When Purcell begins putting up 8 point games like the NHS had Sam Gagner doing and when Oates has HIS Philosophy and concepts BREAKING OILERS DYNASTY RECORDS….well then I will give a dam…….toss in Jonesys Hattrick….and the last 4 consecutive Stanley Cups …..and…buddy Oates cant even carry the NHSs Jockstrap.

        “Tilts head forward slightly ,tips Hat,bends curtly at the waist,taps black Cane on floor 3 times ,confidently exits the room.”….lol.

  • PlayDirty

    This is one of the NHS Moma2 posts on this topic,from 2012.A reference in quotations is made to an earlier NHS Moma2 post on equipment modifications using IDA and IDM.The part not in quotations is my reply.Enjoy.

    “Everyone misses that when Magnus was sent down to the minors the first time he came back to the Oilers with a longer stick. So, when he DOES try a cut to the net from the outside, he can’t protect the puck from the defender with his body as well as when he sported a shorter stick. So, he looses the puck because he can’t control it and bring the puck into a shooting position when he needs to. I guess a veteran told him to get a longer stick in order to poke check and contribute defensively, but in an offensive, role one needs a shorter stick.”

    That is a very astute observation,MMmm.

    My Moma2 told me to always be prepared,so it makes sense that a player would have several different sticks of varying lengths and blade styles and curvatures. I dont think Magnuses strength is in cutting from the outside,he is an elite player with a skillset combined with SIZE that allows him to do what he wants,if he chooses he can smash skulls along the boards like Hall wants to,but there are more bigger than faster d-men in the NHL so it benefits Hall to speed down the boards and Magnus with his huge frame to take them down the middle from an up-speed position–more like a huge defensive centerman.

    And maybe a longer stick actually allows MPS to back the d-men up sooner as he runs the boards down the wing or as he drives the middle,a shorter stick lets bigger slower d-men just make contact easier,if you were a smaller man to start with maybe the difference wouldnt be so beneficial but with MPSes already huge wingspan it does make a big difference because it elevates his reach way above average,just inches but wayyy above average.Not everyone can manage that with a small change.And really he can switch sticks any time during games,and players do do that often some more than others.And all make adjustments for various tactical reasons.I mean remember some of the hooks guys had years ago,that they would only sneak out a few times a year.Ha ha ha.

    Magnus specialises on the up-speed style catalysed from behind the flow of the play and he is VERY good at it even better than Hemmer is.The best we have so far. His defensive awareness is so elite a stick length adjustment wouldnt improve that,a lot of other things can be adjusted with a stick change but not overall defensive contributions.I think adjustments like the stick might be made game to game on the fly.Sometimes to shake your game up temporarily and let you see the ice a wee bit differently.But if you dont try it I guess you will never know what it can offer you,but we do know for certain that most NHL players make equipment adjustments through their careers–and mostly for tactical reasons–so there must be something to gain there ,a carrot hidden somwhere.Looks like Magnus is digging for that carrot,he wants every advantage he can generate,Kudos to him for working so hard on his game.

    Imagine the casualties we would see if Sutton decided to use Omarks stick for a half-season,ha ha ha,he would be filling pine boxes because he would be closing distance on guys so fast so often.He would force players to get closer to him and vice versa,ha ha ha.Uber-contact.A longer stick keeps the beast away and at bay,I would rather eat a foot of stick from Andy than an inch of the elbow macaroni he has cookin.

    Magnus using a longer stick actually forces the d-men to read his velocity and his line and angle differently and changes their timing and decision making–it results in them– backing off just enough to let him maximise a lot of his skillset especially his speed.They engage him physically 2-3ft deeper in the zone with longer lumber.As opposed to up high and early .Remember early contact negates his elite speed—and we want to see him use that,not brute force.It may be a subtle equipment adjustment but it shows up on tape.

    I did play floor hockey and remember how different it was with a longer stick,I had more time to utilise my speed somehow,it was easier to start luring players where I wanted to with a longer stick and then correct with a speed burst gear change if i didnt like the angle of attack or something else was wrong.But I have never skated and felt the difference there,I imagine it is multiplied many times over in effect because of the extremely high speed of execution out there on the ice.It seems to me like a good thing getting better on the ice.But I am just guessing on that one.

    “give em an inch–and they take a mile!!” not sure if this applies.

    Just sayin.