EDMONTON -- Although he has settled into his new role nicely, it was a little bit of a different feeling for Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland as he walked into Rogers Place Friday evening.
That's because his Oilers were about to face the Detroit Red Wings, the team that Holland toiled for for so many years.
"It's going to be a strange night," Holland admitted outside the Oilers dressing room. "I was a Red Wing for a long time, 36 years, 22 as general manager. Lots of those players in that locker room, I shook their hand at the draft table, welcomed them to our organization and watched them grow from young prospects into NHL players and obviously the coaches. I hired Jeff Blashill and watched him be really important to our organization in Grand Rapids and then went to Detroit.
"It's going to be a strange night. For me, obviously, I want to get the two points. It's a huge two points, and then turn the page and move onto Winnipeg. More strange when I got into Little Caesars Arena and back into Detroit. It's going to be strange to see a Red Wing jersey skating around and rooting against it but that's the way it goes."
It'll be even stranger for Holland when the Oilers visit Detroit on Oct. 29 but then the season series will be done.
"For me, I'm glad that we play Detroit twice in October," Holland said. "When the calendar turns to November, it's all over, they're in the East, we're in the West; 36 years is a long time but I'm excited to be an Oiler, I'm excited about our team and like I said from day one, trying to make some noise here in Edmonton. Excited we're out of the gate 6-1, know that there's 75 games to go, we got a lot of work to do, but feel good we could put some points on the board and feel good about ourselves heading into today's game."
Although he is in the Western Conference now and the Wings are in the East, both the conference and the time zone, Holland does pay some attention to what's going on, especially with the growth of some of the young players he drafted like Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek.
"Obviously, the last couple years, you could start to see those young players start to take a bigger role, bigger impact in the wins and losses, more ice time, more important minutes," Holland said. "That's what has to happen for the Red Wings to get back and be a team competing for a playoff spot and make noise in the playoffs. Obviously, I watched their scores. I've seen them play a couple times on TV. A lot of nights they're playing, we play. They're really good, young players, they got a bright future. I know there's a lot of good kids below that. Some of them are in the American League."
Mantha has gotten off to a hot start, leading the Wings with six goals and four assists in seven games.
"I think with Anthony, he's 25 years of age," Holland said. "He scored 80 goals his last year of junior. He's 6-foot-5. When we drafted him, he had 50 goals his draft year. It's a big jump for junior. Everybody wants them to go from junior to pro and not miss a beat, and the odd player does. But lots of them gotta go through what I call adversity, trying times. They gotta realize that they gotta go to the gym. They gotta work hard, maybe change their game. They gotta forecheck more. They gotta work hard away from the puck. I think those are the things Anthony worked on.
"Last year, I think he was ready to have a big season and he was out for six weeks when he stepped up for and fought the kid in Colorado. (Patrik Nemeth). He missed six weeks, and he still had 25 goals missing six weeks. If he stays healthy, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to score 30 goals-plus."
Holland said he enjoyed seeing some of the Detroit coaches and players throughout the day.
After the Wings' optional morning skate, Blashill talked about what Holland meant to him.
"Ken Holland's a real good friend of mine," Blashill said. "He's an unbelievable person, was a great leader for me, was a great boss for me. I think he's a first ballot Hall of Fame GM based on the success he's had and the record he's had. I think this organization, it's good for them to have him for sure.
"But other than that, I'm going to coach and our players are going to play and he's going to GM and we'll have a beer."
That might be just what Holland needs on a day like today.
"I'm nervous about tonight," Holland said. "Detroit's in town. I'm gonna be happy to get this game over with. I'm hoping we can grab two points and then go on to Winnipeg."