EDMONTON - In order to win and become a perennial Stanley Cup contender, it takes a total team effort to succeed.
On the development side, Dallas Eakins says, it's up to the coach and 23 individuals to maximize their potential for the greater good.
"I don't coach a team, I coach individuals. It's important to remember that," Eakins said after he was named the 12th head coach in Oilers history Monday afternoon. "I like to treat all my players the same when it comes to work ethic and discipline, but they're all wired differently.
"You've got to get to know them, inside and out. I need to learn out what triggers them, what motivates them and look under every stone to see what makes them tick. There's a lot of motivation for players in this game. Some want to carry the load for their team and others want to make their parents proud.
"I've got 23 new players that I've got to get to know and find all that out."
In four seasons as the head coach of the AHL's Toronto Marlies, Eakins, 46, led the Baby Leafs to a 157-114-41 record. In doing so, he helped countless prospects turn the corner and become regulars up in the National Hockey League.
As General Manager Craig MacTavish put it during the coach's introductory press conference, Eakins brings a certain "polish" and "pedigree" that, in his mind, other highly-regarded coaching candidates don't have.
"It's about getting them one-on-one, you grab them for lunch and you hit them up at the coffee machine," Eakins said. "It's small group meetings and it's a constant process."
"It's important to us for obvious reasons that he can identify well with young players," MacTavish added.
As a coach who prides himself on line matching and pushing the pace on both sides of the puck, Eakins is promising a return to 'Oilers hockey.' Just how will he do it?
"It's dependent on the group and how things round out, but it's very simple: I want to be able to push the pace as high as we can with our speed, skill, physicality and fitness level.
"When we have the puck, we want to challenge the other team. When we don't have it, we want to push the pace again to get it back as quickly as possible.
"Just being talented is not enough. I want our players to be so fit that if I ask a player to play 26 minutes a night, he can play 26 minutes at a high level. That's something I've extremely passionate about it. It's going to be a challenge for some, but it's non-negotiable."
As a player, Eakins recorded nine assists and 208 penalty minutes in 120 career games. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 10th round (208th overall) in 1985 and, over the course of 17 professional seasons, played under some of the greatest coaches and most brilliant minds ever to grace the National Hockey League.
That was where he learned the true value of character and commitment.
"Roger Neilson told me on many occasions that my mark on the NHL would be made as a coach because I wasn't a very good player," Eakins laughed.
"(Coaching) comes naturally to me. I knew Roger was right and that coaching was in my blood. Maybe I should have started with it much earlier."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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