Adam Oates finished his 19-year NHL career seventh in assists with 1,079. He continues to assist people to this day.
Oates is CEO of Oates Sports Group, which focuses on training some of the NHL's top players, including Mark Scheifele, Steven Stamkos, Max Pacioretty and Jack Eichel. He's also decided to team with NextGen AAA Foundation, a nonprofit that provides mentoring, education and hockey programs to low-income and at-risk children.
"Most hockey players that I've known in my life come from simple means and haven't forgotten that or their roots, and when there's an opportunity to give back, the guys welcome it, and I did get some breaks in my life and haven't forgotten that," Oates said Wednesday in New York at a NextGen AAA event.
Oates will serve as hockey director at NextGen AAA and will help develop the on-ice skills and off-ice character of program members. NextGen AAA's main mission is to facilitate achievement in academics and athletics, providing inroads for kids to attend prestigious prep schools and universities while supporting them with a network that includes tutors and private hockey coaches.
"I wouldn't have been able to play at the level I did without those breaks, and so an opportunity to help someone else get those breaks is very flattering and something that I welcomed," Oates said. "It's very hard. Hockey is expensive, but to get an education, sports is one way you can do it."
Among those Oates will work with is NextGen AAA founder Dee Dee Ricks.
"While hockey is a privilege, not a right, everyone should have the opportunity to play a higher level of hockey," said Ricks, a hockey mom herself. "Race, religion or socioeconomic status should not be the boards that keep a kid off the ice."
Video: Adam Oates NHL's fourth all-time assists leader
Oates finished his NHL career with 341 goals and 1,420 points in 1,337 games as a center with the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Edmonton Oilers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 and was named one of the NHL 100 Greatest Players presented by Molson Canadian in January 2017. Oates was an assistant with the Devils from 2010-12 before becoming coach of the Capitals from 2013-15.
"They really go to the next level and try to help keep kids in the game when it becomes a financial burden because there are a lot of great kids who lost access to the sport because of the cost," said former Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador, who played for Oates. "When I was approached about it and heard that Adam Oates was going to be work with the program, my relationship with Adam, for him to believe in the program, it was just kind of a no-brainer for me to contribute some of my time and become an ambassador and help spread awareness for it."
In a six-month hockey season, a player's family can spend as much as $10,000, a figure that doesn't include the cost for private coaching, skills camps and spring leagues.
"It's important when you can just help support kids who have a passion for hockey like I did," Salvador said. "You can't make it to the NHL without having help, so when you can be in a position where you can effectively make an impact on some kids that kind of have your passion and dream, it is rewarding."
The financial burden can often cause children to drop out of hockey, but NextGen AAA uses funds from its foundation to help them stay in the sport and provide them with on- and off-ice skills to flourish.
"Because of his ability to communicate with players, Adam is able to teach high-level skills in a way that is relatable and easy to understand," said Chris John, who works with Oates at Oates Sports Group and is NextGen's executive director. "No one can develop hockey players' IQ better than Adam can, and he brings this insight to NextGen AAA. He also ensures that other NextGen coaches, like Jeff Devenney, who works closely on skill development with Adam, encourage the kids to be in good academic standing and earn good grades."
Devils center Travis Zajac also played under Oates and was on hand to lend his support.
"It's kind of a one-stop shop," Zajac said. "You get everything that you need. Academics, motivation, and you have Adam with the hockey training so in that regard it's a very unique aspect of developing these kids from a young age and pointing them in the right direction and hopefully they all succeed. This is going to help those kids who maybe don't have those breaks and don't have the right guidance in academics or hockey and I think that's what's unique about this.
"It kind of makes you put things in perspective a little bit. Obviously seeing a player like Adam, what he's been through and all the success he's had, and now he's willing to share everything with players and get them into the right direction and to the next level. Not only that, but trying to diversify the game, which is huge."
For more information on the program, visit nextgenaaa.org.