If you’ve been paying any attention to the World Cup of Hockey, you’re probably aware that Tuesday evening was the start of a best-of-three finals series between Team Canada and Team Europe. While the final score didn’t go Europe’s way, Team Europe was never supposed to make it this far. A collection of eight countries, pieced together to form a team that no one gave a snowball’s chance in hell of accomplishing much; yet somehow, this group of unassuming quality players, coached by Ralph Kreuger, have a chance to win it all. Yes, that’s the same Ralph Krueger the Oilers unceremoniously fired in June of 2013 over Skype.
— Paul Almeida (@AzorcanGlobal) September 25, 2016
Despite being a tournament underdog, Team Europe deserves to be where they are in this tournament and one of the main reasons is the buy-in from every Europe team member. It’s a buy-in that stems, not only from Krueger’s coaching, but his rapport with the players and ability to motivate them. In a matter of days, Krueger was able to bring together a group of players — most of whom had never played with each other before — and have them operating as a cohesive unit, rallied around a cause. It’s not completely unlike the situation he faced in Edmonton as coach of the Oilers.
Amazing though how Ralph Krueger has brought players from 8 nations together in a short time into a cohesive unit. Truly impressive.
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) September 25, 2016
The Most With So Little
During a time when the Oilers were rebuilding their franchise, it was expected the Oilers would lose — and lose a lot. Edmonton had gone through five coaches in as many years before finally hiring a long-term coach in Todd McLellan. There’s little doubt McLellan is a top-notch and respected leader, but of the many faces behind the Oilers bench, Krueger may have gotten the most production out of the least amount of talent.
Krueger worked primarily with rookies and inexperienced, but talented youngsters. To say the least, the team Krueger coached, wasn’t nearly as loaded with offensive talent as it is today. His top-end players were Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, both of whom were immediately slotted into the NHL after being drafted just a year or two earlier. The rest of his roster consisted of aging veterans on their way out of the franchise and non-NHL-level talent trying to earn employment in the NHL. That didn’t stop Kreuger from making the most of the hand he was dealt.
Of the group of bench bosses the Oilers hired between 2009 and 2015, Krueger had the best winning percentage at .469% He was better than Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Todd Nelson and Krueger’s replacement Dallas Eakins. Ultimately, during the 2012-13 NHL season, with a record of 19-22-7, the Oilers finished third in the Northwest Division and missed the playoffs. Kruger was never cemented as a head coach with the organization and coached only 48 total games. This wasn’t, however, Krueger’s fault.
Production from Players Who Don’t Produce for Anyone
In the World Cup, we saw a reminder of what Krueger can do to motivate his players. After a slow start, Krueger benched German star and now-Oiler Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl responded with a three-goal performance. This is something Krueger had done with other Oilers of the past.
Hats off to Ralph Krueger. Benches Draisaitl for final 40:00 last game, kid gets a hat trick tonight. Coaching 101.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) September 15, 2016
One of Krueger’s bigger achievements was convincing Justin Schultz — at that time, one of the most sought-after free agents — to choose the Oilers over nearly 29 other NHL teams. Krueger’s influence there was instrumental and Schultz’s today cites Krueger’s vision as the determining factor in that decision. That year, Schultz scored eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 48 games. Since then, Schultz hasn’t seen close to that type of efficiency.
Another example was Nail Yakupov, who in his rookie year, felt confident playing for Krueger. Yakupov was provided opportunities to use his skill set as a weapon and led rookies in goals that season. He didn’t win the award, but many thought Yakupov was in the running for the Calder trophy. Yakupov scored 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games.
That Krueger is having success with Team Europe shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Krueger has the kind of resume that lends itself to producing the type of results he’s getting from his team.
He’s a motivational speaker, an author, chairman of the English soccer club Southampton, and a committee member of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. He’s been in the coaching game for over 37 years and worked with head coach Mike Babcock at the Winter Olympics helping team Canada earn a gold medal.
In Edmonton, Krueger was a good coach with a young team who produced far beyond what was expected of them. He’s doing the same thing today in the World Cup of Hockey. Most experts, including Krueger, admit that Europe winning is a long-shot. The only people who perhaps don’t think so, are the players on his team. That said, isn’t that what makes a coach a good coach — getting your players to buy-in to a vision or a dream that they can do anything if they put their minds to it?
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”