Over the course of his 14-year NHL career, Adrian Aucoin
picked up the nickname "Oakie."
It’s more of a phonetic take-off on his surname, rather than a reference to the tree. But it’s strikingly apropos this season in Phoenix, where Aucoin has been a picture of stability and constancy for all those little acorns on the Coyotes' blue line.
"A stable, veteran guy who really adds a pretty good presence in the lockerroom," says Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett
of the 36-year-old from Ottawa. “We’ve got some young players, and especially a couple of young ‘D’ back there, on whom he’s really been a good influence.
"He’s been a stable, strong veteran for us — and that’s exactly what we expected."
Aucoin, the former Canuck, Bolt, Islander, Blackhawk and Flame, signed a one-year, $2.25-million free agent deal with Phoenix in July. As a right-handed shot from the blue line, Aucoin certainly still has currency — he once scored 23 goals for the Canucks, and potted 10 in each of the past two seasons for Calgary — but his mentor’s role is part of the equation for the Coyotes, who began the season with 23-year-old Keith Yandle
and 25-year-old Sami Lepisto
as part of the club’s defensive corps.
The ’Yotes (13-11-1) host the Dallas Stars
(11-6-7) in a Pacific Division matchup Friday night at Jobing.com Arena.
"I’ve been around. I’ve seen stuff. So a lot of these young guys, I think they can kind of learn some things," Aucoin tells NHL.com. "It’s not like I’m going to tell them what to do, but in an organization that’s still up in the air, you try to show up and do what you can.
"We’re not going to be able to control all the stuff going on outside the rink, but if we win games, that’s the best thing for us, not only as a team but for the organization sticking around."
Aucoin was even more valuable in the past month, when injuries decimated the Desert Dogs’ blue line. Kurt Sauer
(upper body) has been sidelined since the club’s season opener in Los Angeles, but things went from bad to worse when shot-blocking specialist Zbynek Michalek
(lower body) and assistant captain Ed Jovanovski
(lower body) were felled two days apart in early November.
Jovanovski and Michalek both returned Wednesday in a 2-1 loss at Calgary, but for the better part of November, Aucoin has been also helping to shepherd the likes of David Schlemko
, 22, and Shaun Heshka
, 24, who had three NHL games between them prior to their summons from AHL San Antonio.
Aucoin spent 28:09 on the ice Nov. 14 versus Dallas, his season high, during that critical stretch.
"He’s brought that veteran presence. He’s a guy who’s played (876) games in this league, and he’s a calming influence. He’s nothing but helped our team," Jovanovski tells NHL.com. "He’s kept the ship afloat for us, him and (captain) Shane Doan
... it’s good to see that when guys go down with injury, other guys out there know how to handle the minutes and know how to handle the team. Adrian’s done that for us, for sure.”
Aucoin has 3 goals, 12 points and a minus-6 rating through the Coyotes’ first 25 games this season.
"He’s brought that veteran presence. He’s a guy who’s played (876) games in this league, and he’s a calming influence. He’s nothing but helped our team."
-- Ed Jovanovski on Adrian Aucoin
While he’s been a tower of strength, the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder had also eagerly been anticipating the return of Jovanovski, himself a pillar of the Phoenix defense corps for three-plus years.
"He’s the heartbeat of any team he’s ever played on," says Aucoin. "He’s an all-in kind of guy, and he’s the same way off the ice. He’s one of those guys the young guys really admire, and he really takes care of a lot of people on the team."
While some fans in Calgary lament the loss of Aucoin’s steady presence, there’s a smaller group that misses him even more acutely. Without Aucoin, the Flames don’t have a go-to guy for Calgary’s French-speaking media contingent.
"Oh, yeah, my French," chuckles Aucoin, who comes from a mix of Acadian and Ukrainian heritage. "I did a French interview the other night in Edmonton, and I couldn’t even spit out half the words. It’s amazing what a few months will do."