This is a whole new deal for Adam Oates, and he conceded feeling some butterflies. He’s familiar with the Washington Capitals from his playing days, but development camp this week provides his first opportunity to be on the ice as an NHL coach.
Talking about the prospects, Oates said: “They’re here, they’re a little nervous, they want to show what they got.”
The new coach is the same way.
But getting to ease into his new role in the middle of July is the perfect situation for Oates and something the previous three Caps coaches, all midseason replacements, didn’t get a chance to take advantage of.
“No question. Oatesy admitted himself, there’s some things he’s got to learn as a head coach,” associate goaltending coach and ex-teammate Olie Kolzig said. “I think he’s really excited for the start of training camp and obviously getting the main guys here and working with them.”
Pending a possible lockout, Oates will get the chance to start his work with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Co. in September. He’s already called every player and even suggested some tips on what players such as Jay Beagle can improve on.
“I called everybody just to say hi and introduce myself,” Oates said. “You want to try and get ahead of the curve just a little bit so when I do meet them I’ve watched them enough that I can talk to them right away.”
Kolzig and the prospects have gotten a taste of that already. First-round pick Filip Forsberg said it was a good first impression, and many others talked him up despite only a few interactions.
“He’s very intense, very direct with what he wants. He seems to be, from the little taste I’ve had, everything you’d want in a coach,” said defenseman Connor Carrick, the Caps’ fifth-round draft pick last month. “He seems like he’s going to hold you responsible. He’s going to have things done the right way, his way. He’s definitely a guy that demands respect.”
The respect stems from his playing days for those who grew up watching Oates during his Hall of Fame career. But from a coaching perspective, it’s what general manager George McPhee and others have referred to as his hockey IQ that stands out.
Using the acumen from 19 seasons in the NHL and three as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils, Oates seems to be relishing running the show.
“You guys don’t see it in the coaches’ room, but it’s nonstop. He’s always breaking down video, he’s always talking systems,” Kolzig said. “It’s impressive to watch. He’s definitely a student of the game. It’s impressive to watch him just talk about the game.”
When Oates talks hockey, it’s clear he knows exactly what he wants. He preaches aggressive hockey, built on the defense-first teachings he picked up in New Jersey. And he knows what kind of assistant coaches he wants, though he deferred to McPhee on when those hires will happen.
The 49-year-old knows the Caps, too, from scouting every game of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers. He saw these players when they were at their best.
But there’s no pressure on Oates this week to be a quick study. He’ll learn the organization’s workings and the prospects whom Bruce Boudreau knew from four of these camps.
Perhaps more than anything else, Oates gets five scrimmages this week to work on running a bench, something he hasn’t done at any level.
“I think it’s probably something you have to learn. As a player you can sit there and you can hear the coach say, ‘Who’s up?’ As a coach, you’ve got to worry about the other team, what line they’re putting out, the situation in the game,” Kolzig said. “You don’t have a whole lot of time to make line changes and decisions, so it’s got to be quick. Oatesy, obviously, he’s a quick thinker, he’s a very cerebral guy. I don’t think there’s going to be any issue.”