If you've been reading Anaheim Calling long enough, you've become well acquainted with my love of playmaking forwards. I have ruined multiple game threads (I miss those, guys) with mentions of Patrick Kane, and during the 2012 playoffs, I nursed a quiet obsession with Claude Giroux. And of course, I can't forget our Playmaker in Chief, Ryan Getzlaf. I think that a well-timed and creatively executed pass is the most beautiful thing in hockey, and the people who consistently yell "Shoot!" at hockey games probably have no idea what they're talking about.
The best hockey players make also their linemates better. The Flyers' Scott Hartnell and the Penguins' James Neal blossomed into All-Stars after being placed on lines with Giroux and Evgeni Malkin, respectively. Getzlaf was a crucial component of Corey Perry's Hart Trophy-winning season, and even Kane makes Marian Hossa a better player.
And before Kane, Giroux, and Getzlaf, there was Adam Oates. Oates was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this past Monday, a fair reward for a distinguished 19 year career in the NHL. Unlike Getzlaf, Oates was not built for hockey. He had a reputation as a slow skater, stood under six feet tall, and flew under the radar while putting up gaudy numbers (Brett Hull once complained that Oates didn't get enough "publicity"). But he made his name by feeding the puck to the likes of Peter Bondra, Cam Neely, and the aforementioned Hull.
Oates went undrafted as an 18 year old, and NHL teams did not begin to take interest in him until his junior season at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He chose to forgo his final year of collegiate eligibility, signing a $1.1 million dollar contract with the Detroit Red Wings for the 1985-86 season. That contract also made him the highest paid rookie during that season.
I also have a soft spot for unheralded college hockey players who make a big splash in the NHL (Nick Bonino, anyone?). Success in The Show isn't about being 6'3" or having a booming slapshot - it's about proper positioning and being able to identify where the puck is going. Sports Illustrated fawned over Oates' "unshakable grasp of the geometry around him," and he carried this understanding to the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers.
After failing to lead the Flyers to a deep playoff run in the 2002 postseason, the then-Mighty Ducks claimed the center through free agency. (I feel like we claim all of our big names through free agency, but that's another post). Adam came to Anaheim as a player at the end of his career, but with a lot still left in the tank. The 2002-03 season would become Oates' last hurrah - he scored 45 points in 67 games, and became a crucial part of the Mighty Ducks' 2003 postseason run. Even though Oates would spend the final season of his career with the Edmonton Oilers, his season as a Mighty Duck was his last truly productive one. During Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final that year, he assisted on Ruslan Salei's game-winning goal. The Mighty Ducks did not renew Oates' contract, but it was due to his age (he was 41 years old by that time), and not his inability to live up to expectations.
After his career ended in 2004, Oates coached for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils. He had a large part in turning Steven Stamkos into the offensive juggernaut that he is today, and helped the Devils get to the Stanley Cup Finals this past postseason. And in June, Oates was selected to be the Washington Capitals' 16th head coach.
Best of luck in Washington, Adam. And if things don't work out in Washington, please consider coming back to Anaheim to work with Emerson Etem. Just a thought...
[Ed. Note: He should have been in the hall of fame of acting, too.]