When you look back on the job Todd Nelson and his staff in Oklahoma City did last season, it is hard to not be impressed. Nelson calls it the staff’s best coaching job to date, and this after having made it to back-to-back Western Conference Finals (2012, 2013) in the previous years.
Nelson’s track record over the past four years with the Edmonton Oilers farm team really speaks for itself. It’s also the reason the club extended Nelson’s contract for three years.
“I like it here very much,” Nelson said. “It’s a family-type culture. We are building on something here and this new contract extension gives me something to build upon. I think we have some unfinished business to do. There’s nothing more that I would like than to bring a championship to OKC.”
A championship would be the icing on the cake for Nelson. It may also be the push he needs to get him where he wants to go - the NHL. Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said after this season that Nelson was “ready for the opportunity” to become a head coach in the NHL, which is the career goal for Nelson.
Nelson had an opportunity this off-season but things just didn’t work out… for now.
“I talked with Carolina and things went pretty well but not good enough obviously. But it is always good to go through the process and it feels good that other people in the hockey world recognize what we’re doing here,” Nelson said. “My name was kicked around Pittsburgh a bit but I did not talk with them. All of the NHL coaching jobs have filled up so this was a natural fit coming back to OKC and I couldn’t be happier.”
Nelson won’t leave a good situation with the Oilers and Oklahoma City for just any job, which is why he agreed to the extension. Nelson will seize this opportunity with the Barons to continue to grow as a coach and wait until an NHL team is ready to give him the keys to a club. He’s seen his fellow AHL coaches make the jump and he feels he’s ready to do the same.
“I’m not going to change a whole lot in my coaching. But I think over the course of the four years I have matured as a coach and I’ve developed more confidence. When you see guys like (Vancouver Head Coach) Willie Desjardins, Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay) and Dallas Eakins (Edmonton) and guys that have went up from the American Hockey League, and in the case of Cooper where he’s had a lot of success, it gives me a lot of confidence because I’ve coached against these guys.
“As long as I’m here I am going to work every day to get better. I’m going to come to the rink with a tremendous attitude and teach these young guys the pro game and hopefully have them graduate to the Oilers, that’s the ultimate goal. If something comes my way in the future I will definitely entertain it. I’m in a position now where I think going up to be an assistant coach is not my goal. My goal is to be a head coach in the NHL. Maybe some day I will get that opportunity.”
Now that the extension is official Nelson can focus on what he believes is going to be an exciting season.
“It’s been a busy three weeks for me, being involved with the Carolina opening. But it’s nice to get the (extension) done and now I can relax and enjoy my summer and try to get recharged for the upcoming season. It’s going to be an exciting year and our team is going to be a lot stronger than we had last year. I’m very excited about it. I feel unbelievable because working with the organization that I work with is tremendous.”
With hopefully fewer roster transactions and injuries and more experience and maturity from the younger prospects, Nelson sees the 2014-15 season as a good one for the Barons.
“We’re going to see some familiar faces. I think this year there is not going to be as much turnover as we had last year. I’m hoping the big club stays healthy, as well as us, because with all the transactions we went through it was a difficult season. I felt that we grew as a team and as a coaching staff. I thought it was probably our best job to date that we’ve done, just getting into the playoffs. Looking forward to next year, even though we’re going to be young I think the guys will be that much better going through the experience. We’re projected to have some quality rookies come in and they should be able to contribute right away.
“I like the mix that we have. We’ll be young on defence again but we’ll have some guys who are pretty familiar with OKC up front. It’s a very good mix of young guys and veterans and I’m very excited to get the season started.”