5 Current Oilers Who Have Potential to Become Great Coaches

The Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens made headlines last week with their coaching changes. The Oilers hired a familiar face by promoting Jay Woodcroft from his head coaching position with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League (AHL). The Canadiens took an interesting route, and hired former player Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and he was known for his dynamic offense. Aside from coaching his three sons, however, he didn’t have any coaching experience. It’s an interesting approach, and one that got me thinking, which current Oiler players would excel in a coaching role? Let’s take a look at five current Oilers below, and their attributes that would allow them to excel as an NHL coach.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in his 11th season in the NHL, and he’s had nine different coaches within that span. He was drafted to become a franchise center, even drawing comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk and Wayne Gretzky. However, after being a finalist for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season, he unselfishly changed his style of play throughout his career, and became better defensively to battle the big centers of the Western Conference.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nugent-Hopkins is highly skilled and underrated at times because he makes the game look so easy. He’s a special teams wizard, and he’s been an integral part of the Oilers’ league-leading power-play unit the last two seasons. At the same time, he’s usually the first player to hop over the boards to kill a penalty, with he and teammate Zach Hyman connecting on a pair of shorthanded goals this season. He’s slipped in the face off circle this season with a 40.5% face off percentage (FO%), but overall he’s usually in good positioning with excellent focus on the two-way game. He’s also very versatile, effortlessly switching from wing to the center position, with no complaints.

Coaching Potential: Associate Coach with specialization with special teams

Nugent-Hopkins would excel as an associate coach because he’s a smart and cerebral player, with the ability to process the game at a higher level than most NHL players. He’d be able to relate to a first-line player, to a fourth-line player with his offensive prowess, but also because he’s defensively aware. Also, he’s a special team’s guru. He can have a long career after he retires, running a team’s power play and penalty-killing units. Lastly, with nine different NHL coaches and experiencing various coaching styles in his career, he’d have the advantage of filtering the positives and negatives of each coach and applying it to his style.

Kris Russell

Kris Russell was a top defenceman in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Medicine Hat Tigers, twice being named the league’s top defenseman and winning the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy in 2007, for the WHL’s most outstanding player. He was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, 67th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, with the hope of him becoming a power-play specialist.

He tallied 196 points in 246 games and was touted as an offensive defenseman; however, he learned early in his career that he wouldn’t be the same player in the NHL. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues and transformed into a defensive defenseman. At 5-foot-10, he’s smaller and stature, yet learned he had a high pain threshold. To prolong his NHL career, he became a shot-blocking specialist, and in his 15th season in the league, reached 1999 blocks to set the NHL record for most blocked shots.  

Coaching Potential: Assistant Coach with specialization with defensemen

Much like current Oilers’ defensive coach, Dave Manson, Russell would be a great player turned into coach. Shot blocking is an art form. In addition to having a high pain threshold, there’s a matter of awareness on the ice, positioning, and timing. It’s a vital defensive skill that can be extremely useful on the penalty kill. With the game moving towards high-end skill with offensive flair, there is still room for players that “take one for the team”, to continue to grow with the game. The NHL’s all-time leader in blocked shots would be a great teacher for the younger generation.

Derek Ryan

Derek Ryan had an unconventional road to the NHL. After playing four years in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs, he played four successful seasons at the University of Alberta (U of A) with the Golden Bears. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physiology, and stated he has plans to become a pharmacist (from “Versatile ‘Doc” Ryan Joins Flames, Brings Faceoff Prowess,” Calgary Sun, 7/2/18).

Thereafter, he took his talents to Europe, playing in Austria for three seasons, and was named MVP of the Swedish Hockey League in 2015, after tallying 60 points in 55 games. The Carolina Hurricanes took notice, and they gave him his first shot at an NHL career at age 28.

Ryan is in his seventh season in the NHL. While he’s statistically having a down year with the Oilers in terms of point production, he’s established himself as a dependable defensive center with the ability to produce points, for most of his career. He’s a right-shot depth player, but his calling card is his faceoff ability — with a 55.5% career faceoff percentage (FO%). Ryan also gives good and honest interviews with his ability to analyze plays, and notably identifies areas of improvement.  

Coaching Potential: Head Coach

Ryan would be a great coach because of his life experience and determination. He had a long road to the NHL and he’s a perfect example of why a player should never give up on their long-term goals. Also, he completed a degree at the U of A and has an education, in addition to his experiences. At the same time, he’s a smart player that plays at both ends of the rink. With him being a great communicator and with his career 55.5 FO%, he’d be a great mentor to centremen. He’d be able to reveal personal tricks that made him successful in the faceoff circle.

Brendan Perlini

Brendan Perlini had a unique childhood. His father was a professional hockey player who had a brief stint in the NHL within the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. However, his father took his talents to the British Hockey League (BHL), and it was in Guildford, England, where Perlini was born. He began playing hockey in his native country, but by age 11 he moved to Canada. He played junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Barrie Colts and Niagra IceDogs, recording 143 points in 160 games.

He obtained dual citizenship and represented Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior championships. He was selected 2014 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, and after four seasons with the Coyotes with brief stints with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, he was out of the league by 2020. Last season he played in the Swiss League, and it’s there where he indicated he became a more patient and well-rounded player.

What’s most interesting about Perlini, is his outlook and perspective in life. Throughout the season, he’s conveyed himself as a very articulate individual with a very positive attitude. When the Oilers were amid their losing skid in January, Perlini gained popularity with his optimism, saying in a media avail:

“Go out there and play. Play like you’re a kid on the pond. Enjoy it, have fun, be positive and good things will happen. I think if it’s the other way, and you’re carrying negativity, and bad attitudes, and things like that, it can go down. But the more you bring that positive energy and spirt – I’m a big believer in law of attraction. So, whatever you think about, you bring about.”

– Brendan Perlini

Related: Oilers: 4 Things You Didn’t Know About Brendan Perlini

On Jan. 22, Perlini was featured on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours” show with Scott Oake and he spoke more about his mental preparation and how he remains even keel. The Hockey Writers’ Brian Swane wrote how his positive outlook has resonated with fans and how his philosophical takes on life went viral. It was an interesting interview that was not the norm for a hockey player. Instead of generic and almost robotic responses, fans got a genuine insight into his cheerful character.

Coaching Potential: Head Coach

There are various coaching styles. Some are demanding and sticklers for discipline like former NHL head coach Mike Keenan, whereas others like to motivate and inspire, like Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper (who has won the Stanley Cup the last two seasons). You won’t see him screaming at his players on the bench, but you’ll see him motivate and articulately communicate his message. He’s a teacher, he delegates and he encourages his players (from “Jon Cooper Teaches. He Motivates. He Delegates. Mostly, He Wins” Tampa Bay Times, 7/4/21).

Because Perlini is such a positive person, I feel he could adopt Cooper’s approach to coaching. With the positive insight he’s shared in his interviews and how he’s able to motivate himself, he has an unorthodox sense of wisdom to him, that would be beneficial for young professional hockey players. He’s an excellent communicator with a calm demeanor, and I feel he’d be able to get the best out of his players.  

Zach Hyman

Hyman is involved with many extracurricular activities outside of hockey. He’s a bestselling author with Penguin Random House, in which he’s published four children’s books. He’s also the founder of Eleven Gaming, a professional e-sports gaming company and he’s also an ambassador for children’s charities.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

On the hockey side of things, in his first season with the Oilers he’s shown he’s a skilled player that brings the sandpaper to any line he plays on. He demonstrates his versatility and “team first” attitude by moving up and down the lineup — he’s spent the majority of the season as the first-line left-wing, but he’s also dropped down to the third line without complaints. Hyman also rotates the net-front presence role with Jesse Puljujarvi on the first unit power-play. The former Toronto Maple Leaf assessed his play earlier in the season, stating, “I’m really comfortable playing with everybody, really. Last year in Toronto, I bounced around on almost every line. It’s just going out there and bringing the same level of competitiveness, intensity, and work ethic to any line that I’m on.”

Another intangible in Hyman’s play is his competitiveness and hard work. Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith said of Hyman:

“As a parent now of hockey players, he’s the epitome of what you want from your kids. I tell my oldest son, ‘You have to watch Zach Hyman play.’ Not everyone can play like Connor. It’s fine watching him play, but you’re not going to be Connor McDavid.”

– Mike Smith

Coaching Potential: Head Coach

He’d excel in a coaching role because of his ability to communicate and his accolades as a writer and a business founder speak for themselves. He’s also very articulate in interviews and gets his point across in an honest and genuine manner. At the same time, he’d be able to establish a connection with all of his forwards with his experience of being skilled and a hard worker. Also, his unselfishness to put the team before anything is a great attribute to true leaders.   

When NHL players retire, they can fall back on the money they’ve made from the sport, but some carve a niche in the industry using their previous skillset and knowledge. With the rate the Oilers have rotated coaches within the last nine years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the players listed above behind the bench, and sharing their wisdom with emerging hockey stars one day.


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