EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers tapped a resource from their storied past when they added Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey as skills development coach Sunday.
Coffey, 56, was on the ice for practice at Rogers Place and will be asked to mentor defensemen in particular, including prospects in the Oilers system.
General manager Peter Chiarelli said Edmonton has three top prospects on defense that he hopes can thrive with additional guidance from Coffey.
Ryan Mantha, 21, a fourth-round pick (No. 104) by the New York Rangers in the 2014 NHL Draft, Caleb Jones, 20, a fourth-round pick (No. 117) by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Ethan Bear, 20, a fifth-round pick (No. 124) by Edmonton in 2015, each is playing with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League this season.
"It's a position I've been looking at for a while," Chiarelli said Sunday. "From 30,000 feet, when we look at our prospect pool, we've got a lot of defensemen, ranging from the junior leagues to college. And we've got three prime prospects in Bakersfield, and we've got young defensemen here.
"That framed the position. With respect to Paul, he's such an accomplished person in hockey, I really like the way he looks at the game, the intricacies of playing defense. We had a number of conversations spanning a while, and it seemed like a really good fit. He's motivated to do it, and we were motivated to get someone in that position."
Oilers coach Todd McLellan said he was enthused to be able to bring someone of Coffey's vast experience and success into the fold.
Video: Paul Coffey is one of three D-men to score 40 goals
"When I was [with the Detroit Red Wings] as an assistant coach way back, I always called it the Harvard of hockey because of the number of professors, if you will, that were around," McLellan said. "Steve Yzerman when he was done playing, Mark Howe, Pat Verbeek, Mr. [Alex] Delvecchio, those guys were around the locker room all the time. Even Gordie Howe. They would share their thoughts about the team and the game, and players had access to those guys and it was valuable."
McLellan said Coffey's value at the NHL level will be high also because of his life experiences that include coaching his own son, Christian, 14, who plays for the Toronto Marlboros AAA bantams.
"Paul is current right now," McLellan said. "He's got children that are of college age all the way down to the bantam age. So I think that's real important to be up to date with the life tendencies of the younger players right now. He's not dated."
Coffey, who retired in 2001 after 21 NHL seasons and won the Stanley Cup four times, including three with the Oilers, said he's there simply to help.
"I'm not here to step on any toes," Coffey said. "They've got a real good young group. We saw it last year in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. Just sitting with Todd and his staff for not even the last day, the knowledge they have is great and I am learning a lot.
"I'm not a head coach, that's for sure. I don't have a title here. I'm going to help out as much as I can. I haven't coached or helped out at this level before. I've coached a lot of young kids all the way up. It's different, but it's still the same. It's a game. It's a mental game and I know how the game is played and how talent is, and the biggest thing is that you've got to get your players to play for you."
Chiarelli said the Oilers struggles this season -- they are sixth in the Pacific Division with 45 points in 47 games -- crystalized his decision on Coffey but did not start his search to fill the position.
"He's a guy I've always thought about talking to about this position and it just kind of lined up," Chiarelli said. "I know prior to me coming in here, there was talk about all the old Oilers. For me, this is a collaborative decision between me and Todd. We're not old Oilers. ... It doesn't mean we're changing anything we're doing. He's going to add a voice to it."
Coffey is the second-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history with 1,531 points (396 goals, 1,135 assists) in 1,409 regular-season games, behind Ray Bourque (1,579 points). He won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the League three times, was an NHL First-Team All-Star four times and was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian during the League's centennial season.