ANAHEIM -- Before Wayne Gretzky joined the Edmonton Oilers as vice chair of Oilers Entertainment Group this past October, he had been without an official NHL team connection for seven years and retired as a player for more than 17.
All of that may explain the enjoyment the NHL all-time leading scorer is getting from spending more time and traveling with the Oilers during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I call them kids because most of them are younger than my kids," Gretzky, 56, said before the playoffs began. "I've had a chance to travel with the team a little bit on a couple of trips. First and foremost, I stay out of the way because I'm not the coach, I'm not the [general manager], and they got that handled.
"I'm there more for encouragement. I really enjoy watching them play and I think they get excited when I'm there, to play in front of me. I'm very proud of the fact that after 11 years (out of the playoffs), they've given the fans something to get excited about. Not only Connor [McDavid] but Patrick Maroon, and [Milan] Lucic and [Leon] Draisaitl and Matt Hendricks.
Video: Wayne Gretzky all-time leader in goals, points
"They all play hard, they're such good kids."
Oilers coach Todd McLellan said he was grateful for Gretzky's presence ahead of Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).
"It's been tremendous having him around," McLellan said. "Everybody knows of Wayne, but nobody around our group knew Wayne personally. So we know him now that way, and he's a tremendous asset for our group.
"He's not running around our locker room telling people what they need to do, do this or do that. He's sharing his experiences with us as a staff, with the players, and he's got such a positive mindset that it kind of rubs off on everybody. So we're fortunate to have him.
"If his passion level, and I'm sure it was, was anywhere close when he played to what it is now, it would have been through the roof. He just loves the game and he likes being around the team."
NHL.com Staff Writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.