Getting to know Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson
Photo credit:NHLI via Getty Images
By Cam Lewis9 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers have called up two of their top prospects from the Bakersfield Condors.
No, they aren’t calling up a recent top pick, a scoring winger, defender, or goaltender — instead, it’ll be a pair of coaches who have been instrumental in funneling young talent from Bakersfield to Edmonton over the past few years who will be joining the big-league club.
Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair have been let go and Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson will take over behind the bench in Edmonton for the rest of this season, and perhaps beyond.
Promoting Woodcroft represents the Oilers moving in a different direction than what we’ve previously seen in the Connor McDavid era. Since winning the Golden Ticket, the Oilers have hired three veteran coaches: Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, and Dave Tippett. It’s also a major change for Ken Holland, who had never fired a coach mid-season to this point.
This is a breath of fresh air for an organization that has favoured an old-school approach for years and is badly in need of a new voice. Let’s get to know the new guys.
Who is Jay Woodcroft?
Woodcroft was part of the staff that migrated from San Jose to Edmonton when McLellan took over the Oilers’ bench in 2015-16. This was the second time that McLellan had brought Woodcroft along with him, as the two originally worked together with the Detroit Red Wings before coaching the Sharks.
After a playing career that started with the University of Alabama-Hunstville and weaved through the ECHL, UHL, and Germany for a few years, Woodcroft jumped immediately into coaching at the NHL level. At just 28 years of age, Woodcroft ended his playing career in order to take a job on Mike Babcock’s staff with the Red Wings as a video coach.
Woodcroft fell in love with teaching and coaching at a young age. His older brother Craig (who currently coached Dynamo Minsk of the KHL) started a hockey school and Woodcroft spent summers coaching all around the Midwestern United States.
“That’s when I learned how to connect with younger players and boil teaching points down to the lowest common denominator,” Woodcroft said in an interview with The Athletic.
In his third season in Detroit, Woodcroft was part of that staff that led the Red Wings to their 2008 Stanley Cup championship. Immediately after that, McLellan, one of Babcock’s assistants, was hired for the San Jose job and Woodcroft was brought along.
Woodcroft was on Edmonton’s bench for three seasons before having his role with the organization changed. Ahead of the 2018-19 season, Woodcroft was named the head coach of the Condors, representing his first head coaching gig and his first trip through the AHL.
The Condors did very well in Woodcroft’s first season, going 42-21-5 and reaching the second round of the playoffs. The team struggled the following year as the Oilers demanded many in-season call-ups, but they did well again in the COVID-shortened 2021 season, going 24-14-1 and winning the Pacific Division championship.
Bakersfield has also become a strong talent pipeline for the big-league club since Woodcroft’s arrival, which hasn’t always been the case for the Oilers when it comes to their AHL affiliates. Beyond first-round picks such as Evan Bouchard and Kailer Yamamoto, Woodcroft’s Condors have turned later-round picks like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and William Lagesson into NHLers.
Woodcroft is the definition of a new-age coach, one who doesn’t intimidate players with an iron fist, but one who earnestly seeks to teach them how to get better. This anecdote from the post I referenced above in The Athletic paints the picture of how Woodcroft operates…
Similarly, Woodcroft said he came to understand the best players in Detroit just wanted to find ways to improve. He made that point of emphasis during video breakdowns and continued doing so as an assistant coach in San Jose.Pavelski said he would come to him with a video package every couple of days. There would always be a positive clip and something to improve upon.“He’s always someone you liked to talk to. He always has something for you, trying to help you improve,” Pavelski said. “That’s all you can ask for – someone you trust and someone you believe is on your side and is trying to help you out.”
Woodcroft is in the final season of a three-year contract. With his name frequently coming up in rising coaching candidate lists, it’s undoubtedly time for the Oilers to see what he can do when coaching an NHL club.
Who is Dave Manson?
You might have noticed that a good chunk of the players that I’ve mentioned as praise for Woodcroft’s development acumen are defenders, and there’s good reason for that.
Dave Manson, who had a 1,103 game career as an NHL player that saw a stop in Edmonton during the early 1990s, has played a key role on Woodcroft’s staff as the team’s defenceman coach. In his playing days, Manson was a tough, physical, defender, and he’s earning a reputation as a coach who can effectively teach young defencemen to play a smart, well-rounded game.
Manson retired from playing in 2002 and he immediately stepped into an assistant coaching role with the Prince Albert Raiders, the WHL club that he played for before breaking into the NHL. He was in that role from 2002 until 2008, took a hiatus, and then returned to the Raiders as an associate coach in 2012 when the team featured a 16-year-old Leon Draisaitl.
His second go-around with the Raiders went on for six seasons, giving Manson 12 years of coaching experience at the WHL level before he was hired to join the staff in Bakersfield. Since then, Manson has been working alongside Woodcroft in Bakersfield.
While the limelight has been on Woodcroft for Bakersfield’s success, Manson has also started to earn a reputation as a quality coach and talent developer. Turning later-round picks @Ethan Bear, @Caleb Jones, and @William Lagesson into quality NHLers is a big win, while Manson’s coaching is also evident in the mature games displayed by @Evan Bouchard and @Philip Broberg, both first-round picks who are key to the organization’s long-term success.
The blueline is yet again a problem for the Oilers, which comes as little surprise as the team added two new players and a rookie into their top-four this season. Manson has done excellent work with Edmonton’s young defenders, and if he can help get more out of veterans like @Darnell Nurse and @Cody Ceci, that would be huge for the Oilers.
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