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Nelson comfortable in OKC, but wants NHL head coaching gig

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Sherwood Park, AB - Todd Nelson won't get it in Edmonton right now, but he still has his sights set on a gig as an NHL head coach.

"Of course [I want to be in the NHL]," he laughed as he addressed the media Thursday at Millennium Place.

Nelson, 43, led the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons to a 45-win, 99-point season in his and the team's second year under the Oilers' revamped minor-league system. He was interviewed for the team's vacant head coaching position a couple weeks ago, but ultimately lost out to Ralph Krueger as it was announced Wednesday in Sherwood Park.

"I went through the process and the interview went very well," Nelson said. "It was very lengthy and we had a good conversation. I was very happy I had the opportunity to do so. A couple days ago I talked to (GM) Steve (Tambellini), he let me know and I waited for the announcement to be made."

While not in a lead role, Nelson has NHL experience under his belt. From 2008 to 2010, he was an assistant coach under John Anderson with the Atlanta Thrashers, primarily running the team's power-play units.

Under his guidance, Atlanta ended the 2008-09 campaign ranked 11th in the NHL with a 19.3-percent success rate.

He and the Oilers did discuss joining the staff as an assistant, but it wasn't something Nelson wanted to revisit at this point in his career.

"We talked about that," he said. "Right now, I like the situation of going back to Oklahoma City and being the head guy. As an assistant coach, it was very gratifying and fun to be up in the NHL. But the thing is, right now for my career, I think it's better that I'm a head coach in the American Hockey League."

Nelson has been and will continue to be a strong presence this week at Oilers Development Camp. His leadership in helping to develop the club's emerging crop in OKC will continue as well, as he's looking to advance on the Barons' strong second season with even greater expectations in the coming year. In just the team's second year in existence, the Barons made it the Western Conference Final (losing a best-of-seven series 4-1 to Toronto).

But that doesn't mean he still isn't interested in heading back to the NHL should the opportunity present itself.

"I have a five-year plan, but it changes every year," he laughed. "Right now, my focus is on going to Oklahoma City and building on what we've done in the previous two years -- it's getting strong and stronger. We were basically seven wins away from winning the Calder Cup and that's what we're focusing on right now.

"We're putting ourselves in a position where we expect to win," Nelson continued. "It's not a lie, it's very believable and I think the guys are going through [the process]. The guys we're going to get from the Oilers next year are going to be very hungry and I think the experience we had last year was fabulous.

"I'd like to be in the National Hockey League as a head coach, but if it doesn't happen [right away], I'm very happy with where I'm at."

In two seasons as the bench boss in OKC, Nelson has put together an 85-51-20 record.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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