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FEATURE: Yawney helping "build a foundation" in Oilers defencemen

The former Chicago Blackhawks boss and Anaheim Ducks assistant coach will play a key role in the development of the Oilers blue-line and penalty kill

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - Preach what you practice, says newly-hired Oilers assistant coach Trent Yawney.

"In the word defenceman is the word defence," said Yawney, who joined the Oilers coaching staff as one of three additions on Friday morning alongside former Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan and Swift Current Broncos boss Manny Viveiros.

"You have to be able to contribute offensively and be up in the play, but also you have to defend on your side of the red line in this league to be successful."

The 52-year-old from Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan is no stranger to the Oilers after four seasons behind the bench as an assistant with division rivals the Anaheim Ducks, and there's no obscurity around what his role will be when the Oilers begin their 2018-19 NHL season in October.

"Sometimes all you need is repetition and some refining to get your game in order, so I'm hoping to be able to establish a foundation in all of the defenceman within the parameters of the team, allowing them to be themselves while providing the necessary components needed to compete in the NHL.

"They all possess that, but there's certain areas that I think I'll be able to help them with and move them forward."

The 17-year coaching veteran re-joins Oilers head coach Todd McLellan in Edmonton after three seasons together behind the bench with the San Jose Sharks from 2008-11 and head coach roles with the Chicago Blackhawks from 2005-07 and five seasons in the American Hockey League with the Norfolk Admirals.

"I'm real excited to be working with Todd again and the rest of the staff," Yawney added. "I've known Glen for a long time and played many moons ago in the [Western Hockey League] against Manny. I'm excited about the staff and have a lot of respect for the Oilers after being on the other side many times."

If he wasn't familiar before, Yawney got the full introduction in a seven-game series against the Oilers during the 2016-17 NHL Playoffs when the Ducks edged the Oilers in game seven of the second round with a 2-1 win.

"Any time a series goes seven games it can go either way, but there's a lot of great pieces here and being able to be a part of the Oilers organization and have the chance to win is exciting for any coach," Yawney said. "The guys who are here that I've coached against from the other side were pretty good in the series when we played against them. Obviously the younger guys are starting to hit their stride, so it's exciting to be a part of that."

Yawney looks to translate his role in the development of NHL-standout defenceman including Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Sami Vatanen to the Oilers when he takes the reins of an Oilers defence that includes Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and a number of the organization's younger defensive prospects.

"A defenceman has to have a foundation to work from because you can't just be all offence and not have any defence or hang back and not jump up in the play. You have to help them with play around their own net, how to close in on players, using their sticks - I think I can help in that area.

"If their game does go off the rails, they can get their game back in one game as opposed to five or six as It's always going back to their foundation and what they've built, starting with the kinds of things that are little details that maybe don't necessarily show up on the scoresheet but are very important for defenceman to have success."

A defensive foundation can extend to all aspects of the game, including special teams, where Yawney and the rest of the Oilers coaching staff look to make improvements after finishing bottom-10 in both power play and penalty kill during the 2017-18 season.

It will be a community effort from the coaching staff next year when they draw on each of their strengths, with Yawney looking to strengthen the Oilers penalty kill after helping guide the Ducks to a top-10 penalty kill percentage in four-straight seasons.

"Another pair of eyes is always good no matter what part of the game it is," Yawney said. "Glen had a good penalty kill in Vancouver when he was an assistant there and Manny's power play in Swift Current has been strong these past few seasons. It'll be a collective thing and maybe I'll see some things on the power play we can implement, and I think Glen and Manny will do the same on the penalty kill."

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