WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele texts back and forth with Adam Oates nearly every day.
The two review clips Oates has cut for the Winnipeg Jets forward, and Oates offers some ideas of small adjustments Scheifele can make in practice to help better translate to game nights.
As one of several clients of Oates Sports Group, a boutique hockey agency that offers a wide range of amenities for players — from skill development right up to player representation — it’s Scheifele’s tight-knit relationship with Oates as they work on the finer points of his game that’s turned the 25-year-old into one of the NHL’s elite centers.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things, that he gives you active, constructive things to work on a daily basis than just going out and skating,” Scheifele said. “Skate with a purpose, work on the things that are going to benefit your game, in-game.”
Scheifele linked up with Oates three years ago in an effort to further his on-ice product. What drew him — and likely a list of 20 or so other NHLers to the Hockey Hall of Famer — was Oates’ history in the league, an illustrious career and one of the best to ever do it.
“That’s first and foremost,” Scheifele said. “He’s one of the best passers of all time. He’s felt it. He knows what it is like to be in certain situations. He can still actually, physically do it, one thing I think he still does really well. And he’s really smart, a hard-working hockey mind that understands the game so well. He can watch it and read it at a different pace than everyone else.”
Oates was a prolific forward who terrorized defenseman. The slick-skating, pinpoint passer amassed 1,079 assists and 1,420 points in 1,337 games during his 19-year tenure. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
Oates’ ability to slice his way through defenders drew Josh Morrissey in, too.
Winnipeg’s top shutdown rearguard has made a name for himself when it comes keeping the NHL’s best off the scoresheet on a nightly basis — something that rarely happened to Oates.
“He’s one of the best forwards of all time, he knows how to beat you,” Morrissey said. “He knows what forwards are trying to do to you and knows how to try and avoid that kind of thing.”
Being the burgeoning defenseman that he is, Morrissey wanted in on the tutelage. The 23-year-old claims Oates’ advice is largely rudimentary.
“Defensively, just a few little skating things, avoiding injury by having your head up more, controlling the puck more by changing your stick a little bit,” Morrissey said. “Things to make your game more efficient.”
Supplementary to one’s overall game?
“Exactly,” he said. “It’s like a strength coach or a nutritionist that you have back home during the summer.”
Morrissey said there was a controversy a few years ago surrounding whether teams liked their players working with Oates or not.
“The thing I can attest to, personally, from having worked with him, is that it has nothing to do with anything systematically, it’s just little skills and things like that,” Morrissey said.
Oates isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, per se. He’s just trying to perfect it.
So why are two of Winnipeg’s stars talking about Oates?
Mostly because I asked them to after the Los Angeles Kings hired Oates as a consultant for skills development and to help the team’s ailing power play earlier this week, just two days after they fired head coach John Stevens and assistant Don Nachbaur, replacing them with Willie Desjardins and Marco Sturm.
But also to get some insight as to why a team as a whole might want his services.
Both are happy to see an important asset to their careers find work with the Kings.
“I personally think it was a great play by L.A.,” Scheifele said of bringing Oates aboard. “Smart play there by them. He’s got a lot of knowledge.”
Morrissey said it’s a running joke among those who train with Oates that they wish they could just keep him to themselves.
“Because he’s so smart,” Morrissey said. “But I’m happy for him getting that role.”