The Coyotes' hiring of Cory Stillman Tuesday emphasized the organization's desire to maximize the potential of the team's young core.
It also reinforced General Manager Bill Armstrong's goal of developing the Coyotes into a perennial contender.
"He's a winner," Armstrong said. "He's a two-time Stanley Cup champion. And that's important for us to bring people inside the organization who know how to win."
Stillman, 46, won back-to-back Stanley Cups as a player with Tampa Bay and Carolina. He comes to the Coyotes from the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, where he served as head coach the previous three seasons. Prior to that, Stillman spent five years as Carolina's Director of Player Development.
Head coach Rick Tocchet, entering his fourth season leading the Coyotes bench, was pleased to hear of Stillman's hiring.
"Cory is a hard worker, a good communicator and a winner," Tocchet said. "His experience and knowledge of the game will be invaluable to our team. I'm excited to work with him."
Stillman expressed his excitement to arrive in Arizona during a Tuesday conference call: "I think they're an up-and-coming young team. They have some young guys, and for me, my past experience for the last eight years has been working with kids age 16-24. So, even though I haven't been coaching at the NHL level, I've been working in a player development and coaching role. I'm looking forward to coming and bringing my knowledge and working with young guys in Arizona."
Indeed, the Coyotes have nine players age 24 or younger that are expected to show on the 2020-21 roster: Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Conor Garland, Barrett Hayton, Adin Hill, Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz.
"I think the biggest thing in today's game is getting kids to play for each other and being excited for each other," Stillman said. "Again, when you're a young team, when I took over in Sudbury at that time, we had to change the culture, we had to learn how to win, and here they've gone through that process. They've got guys who have played here for three to four years. I'm just coming in to be a piece of the puzzle, that's it."
Armstrong mentioned Stillman's two sons when lauding the Coyotes' new co-assistant coach's ability to nurture young talent. One son, Riley, 22, is currently under contract with the Florida Panthers. He saw action in 34 games last year. Chase, 17, is playing in the OHL and is draft eligible this year.
"I've gotten to know (Cory) over the years," Armstrong said. "I saw him in the development part of the game where he was responsible for producing NHL players. He has an understanding for how long that takes. I think the other aspect is that he's raised some good hockey players in his family, his boys are tremendous players. You see what he's done with his own kids and how they play the game."
Stillman is adamant about one thing: "You're coming in to help the head coach," he said.
"For me, it's communication with these players. Everybody wants to become great … I can add to little parts of their hockey game, maybe stick position or their 'compete,' but I can also be someone to talk to, someone who's been there, to build a relationship with players, have them push for you. Whatever I can do to help the team and help Rick 'go,' that's what I'm looking forward to."
Stillman hopes his diverse hockey experience will help him better relate to the players.
"To me, it's not trying to go in there and do everything overnight," he said. "It's a process. It takes time. I can go in, sit, have a conversation with guys. I think I've been through a lot as a player. From being a high draft pick, to playing and getting sent back to juniors, to playing in the minors; then playing in the NHL on a fourth line and third line and moving up to play in a top-six role the last 10 years of my career. It's the communication I think that's going to be the biggest thing coming from me."
Armstrong sees Stillman as the perfect piece to complement - and complete - the Coyotes' coaching staff.
"I think he's got hockey IQ," Armstrong said. "And that fits in along with coach (Rick) Tocchet and coach (Phil) Housley. I think they all bring that to the table. We're just trying to grow our organization with hockey people that are winners. He fits right in there."
Stillman had a 16-year, 1,025-game NHL career. He was a teammate of Co-Assistant Coach Phil Housley (Calgary: 1994-'96) and Coyotes Director of Player Personnel Scott Walker (Carolina: 2006-'08).
Stillman also recalls playing against Head Coach Rick Tocchet, who he described as "a hard-nosed player."
"(Rick has) been coaching here for a while, and I'm looking forward to learning from him," Stillman said. "(He and Phil) were great players. And now, they're both bringing what they have to coaching. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to work with those two guys."
The most recent connection between Armstrong and Stillman is not the first. The two matched up against each other years ago in the AHL.
Armstrong joked: "I think I cross-checked him a few times in our first meeting and punched him in the back of the head. He probably (skated) around me a couple times after that."
Now, they're on the same team.