Shane Doan used to be the captain in a dressing room filled with established veterans. Now, the Phoenix Coyotes’ right wing is the captain in a dressing room filled with twenty-something players who are energetic and exuberant, but hardly experienced.
Doan, only 31 years old himself, can’t figure out which he likes better.
“As a leader you realize having older guys like Mike Ricci or Jeremy Roenick or Owen Nolan, those guys from last year, is a huge help. It makes it pretty easy because you rely on them a lot,” Doan told NHL.com. “Now, it’s just different. I don’t know if it’s easier or harder, it’s just different.”
These days different works for Doan, mainly because he knows the other way didn’t.
The Coyotes, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, are now the youngest team in the NHL. And Doan, the team’s captain since 2003, not only accepts the responsibility of being its leader, clearly he has found pleasure in handling the role.
“I think he truly relishes it,” Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. “He had some tough thoughts in the summer time. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m sure he was wondering what is going to happen with all of these new guys, thinking, ‘Are we going to be worse than last year?’ But you know what? He took on the responsibility and came to training camp with a positive attitude and in tremendous shape.”
“Shane has really been the leader,” Gretzky continued. “He’s saying, ‘This is our group, and we’re going to become a good team together.’ ”
Like most humble leaders, Doan says he’s not doing it alone. He credits assistant captains Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Steven Reinprecht for helping him take charge in the Coyotes’ youth movement.
The native of Halkirk, Alberta, which is south of Edmonton, also admits he’s still in some kind of awe over being the captain of Gretzky’s team.
“It’s a very unique opportunity to be on the ice every day with the greatest player to ever play the game,” Doan said. “Every day you have to show up not just as a player, but as a professional. He stresses that, and that’s what made him so good.”
Gretzky also thrived under immense expectations. While Doan hardly is being asked to yield similar results, he understands that he’s the Coyote with the highest expectations of them all.
Doan, who remains the only player still with the organization since it moved from Winnipeg prior to the 1995-96 season, is the player Gretzky and General Manager Don Maloney rely on to keep the younger guys on the straight and narrow.
“If we (the veterans) don’t get the young guys playing well we really don’t have a chance,” Doan said.
So, he leads by example.
Doan is the team’s top scorer, with nine goals and 18 assists, and he leads the Coyotes’ forwards in time on ice with 20:04 per game, a minute more than the next forward on the list. He also leads Phoenix with 66 hits and 25 takeaways.
“Shane is probably one of the nicest, but also hardest working guys I’ve met in my life,” Coyotes 19-year-old rookie Peter Mueller told NHL.com. “He wants the two points just like everyone else, but off the ice he’s a great guy and a great teammate. It’s definitely nice to be next to him on a line and in the room.”
For the first time in a while, Doan feels he’s close to being rewarded for his leadership, and patience.
Instead of wondering about Phoenix’s organizational plan – the Coyotes used to sign veterans for a quick splash that never materialized – he’s already seen enough positive results from the youth movement to think the future is as bright as the desert sun.
“Having the young guys come in like they did and filling such important, key holes for us has been good,” Doan said. “Bringing in a guy like Radim Vrbata has been incredible. Bringing in a goalie like Ilya Bryzgalov has been phenomenal. So, yeah, I’m encouraged that we’re going in the right direction here.
“It’s not us saying, ‘Hopefully this works.’ It is working. It is happening.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.