Among them is former Capitals center Jeff Halpern, who played with Oates for three seasons in Washington and also had the Ontario native as one of his coaches in Tampa Bay during the 2009-10 season.
“He has the most elite hockey mind I’ve ever come across,” Halpern said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Talking to him about the game or watching him play was a real special thing. When you’re able to play with guys like Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Mike Modano, Martin St. Louis and Oatsey, those are some great players…. And even though it was toward the end of his career when I played with him, I always thought Oatsey’s mind for the game and knowledge of the game was unlike anyone else’s.”
Halpern credited Oates with helping him improve his game in the earliest stages of his career and also how to look at the game for all of its intricate parts but also the big picture of what might be happening in a play, shift or entire game.
When they crossed paths again in Tampa Bay, this time as a player and coach, Oates worked with the forwards and choreographed the power play. Halpern praised Oates’s strategic wherewithal and ability to communicate with players.
“In Tampa, coaching that main power-play unit he always got his point across real effectively and came up with the smartest plans that I think I’ve ever seen,” Halpern said. “I think he has a unique ability even away from hockey as a speaker to get his point across and bring you into the conversation. There’s an engaging way about how he talks to people.”
Communication, which was not exactly former coach Dale Hunter’s strong suit, will likely be key for Oates in Washington — particularly when it comes to establishing a relationship with star players like Alex Ovechkin.
Oates has a particular advantage when working with stars because he was an elite NHL talent himself. Halpern expects that experience to serve Oates well as a coach in Washington.
“I think it’s hard for some coaches to relate to certain players, and that works both ways,” Halpern said. “Some guys might not be able to relate to the stars while others might not know what it’s like to be the guy on the end of the bench skating 10 minutes a game.
“Here, there’s such a huge need for the star players to be the star players,” Halpern continued. “Adam has been one of those guys and to have that not just for him to think of ways to connect to those guys, but to know what they’re going through and know how they need to play in certain situations, is important. I don’t think he’s going to cater just to those guys but he’ll have a tremendous ability to connect with them.”
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