One thing that caused a lot of frustration in Oil Country was how Todd McLellan handled young players. Specifically, McLellan caught the ire of Oilers fans for the lack of faith he showed in Jesse Puljujarvi, who has spent the first three years of his professional career kind of floating in purgatory.
McLellan, as we know, was fired on Tuesday morning. I don’t know if his handling of young players like Puljujarvi was one of the issues that ultimately led to his dismissal, but it’s fair to say that development wasn’t a strength. Even though he’s known as a tough, old school coach, the Oilers youth is in better hands with Ken Hitchcock at the helm.
A couple weeks ago, former Oiler Iiro Pakarinen spoke about his personal frustration with McLellan during his time with the organization. Pakarinen said that communication was poor and he never really knew where he stood with the coaches, if he was playing well, or what they wanted from him. Though he’s never come out and said it explicitly, there’s certainly reason to believe the young Finn Puljujarvi feels the same way.
We talk a lot about how the game of hockey is evolving. We’re moving away from physicality, fighting, and grit and we’re moving towards speed, skill, and systems. With that, we talk about roster composition and how the front office needs to find players who fit the changing and evolving league. One thing we kind of gloss over, though, is that as the game itself is changing, so are the people who are playing it.
There’s a whole new generation of people coming up to play in the NHL. The league is now pretty much dominated by millennials who have a completely different learning style than the generation above them. And no, I’m not going to dive into whether or not players should be allowed to play Fortnite together, but the influx of this new generation creates a brand new challenge for coaches looking to develop and get the most out of their players.
Hitchcock spoke about working with millennials in an interesting article put out last winter at The Upset out of Dallas.
“I find when you talk after a game, to this younger generation, they can’t really remember what you said,” he said. “All they remember is whether you were happy or mad. So they’re missing the message, so to the message get delivered in teaching the moments the next day.
“I talked to [a player] about what I saw in his game and what needs to be improved and I told him why this has such a big impact on our team in a positive way. Well he left the meeting, which was a stern message, but he left the meeting positive. So he has a very clear picture of how he has to play tomorrow to help us win.”
Hitchcock has always been known as an extremely good motivator. Given that he’s from Sherwood Park, you probably don’t have to go very far to talk to somebody in this city that has a Hitchcock story.
During his time in the league, Hitchcock has coached some damn good teams. His record speaks for itself. He’s third all-time in wins as a coach with 823m he won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars back in 1999, and he was a part of all of Team Canada’s Olympic gold medals in the past couple decades.
Throughout that time, he’s also developed some damn good players in the league. Looking back at those Stars teams, he inherited an underachieving team with a lot of young talent. Over three years, he helped a young Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen become some of the game’s best two-way players, Sergei Zubov becomes one of the NHL’s best defenders, and guys like Jamie Langenbrunner, Brendan Morrow, and Brad Lukowich became very solid NHLers. Next up, he went to Philadelphia. Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards were all players who came up under Hitchcock. Recently in St. Louis, we saw the development of Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Colton Parayko under Hitchcock’s watch.
Obviously, Hitchcock isn’t perfect. He is still an old school guy with a big emphasis on defensive play, which doesn’t necessarily bode perfectly for the league’s transition to high-flying speed and skill. But still, there’s certainly a track record of success in developing very good, multi-dimensional players. The Oilers are a really young team and there’s a lot for them to learn. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kailer Yamamoto — all big parts of the organization’s future — are aged 25 or younger. Having a coach oriented towards communication and thinking about the bigger picture will be a breath of fresh air for this group.
Coming up on Thursday night at midnight, our annual Black Friday collecting drops for a limited time only. We’ve got hats, a tee, hoodie, and toques and they’re pretty dope so you’ll definitely want to check it out. Every year, we sell out of all of these items so be sure to get to NationGear.ca as fast as you can if you want to score something to beautify your wardrobe.