Only 45 men have recorded more points in NHL history than Rod Brind’Amour, but the Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach says that one man on that list stands out among the rest- Adam Oates.
“To this is day I still say that he’s the smartest player that I ever played with,” Brind’Amour recently told the Capitals Radio Network.
While Brind’Amour went on to skate in 1,484 regular-season games over a 20-year NHL career, the former Blues, Flyers and Hurricanes forward credits Oates for teaching him the intricacies of the game during his 1989-90 rookie season in St. Louis.
“He taught me more in one year than I learned in any other year that I played,” Brind’Amour said of the current Capitals bench boss. “Being a rookie, he was good to me, setting me up hundreds of times and I had a big rookie year and it was all because of him.
“To this day, I feel like I owe him a lot because he taught me so much- just from watching him and seeing the kind of guy that he was. He treated me like an equal which was great as a rookie playing in the NHL.”
While Oates registered his first of four 100-point seasons in 1989-90, Brind’Amour finished his freshman campaign with 26 goals and 61 points in 79 games and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
The fresh face to St. Louis was 19-years-old, and played alongside Oates and Paul MacLean for much of the season on the Blues’ second-line. Oates and MacLean were also new to St. Louis having been traded from the Detroit Red Wings in June 1989.
“Those two guys couldn’t have been more opposite in the way they played and in the way that they thought the game,” Brind’Amour said. “But that’s what made them great too- you had one guy that was a playmaker and one guy who was a goal-scorer and a hard, gritty type of a player. Both are very intelligent guys and I was just the young guy that picked up the bags.”
Oates has acknowledged that while much of his success in St. Louis is linked with fellow Hall-of-Fame member Brett Hull, the two saw limited time together at even strength during Oates’ first year with the team.
“He had just come from Detroit,” Brind’Amour recalled, “where he had been playing in the shadows of [Steve Yzerman] and when we got him in St. Louis it was like ‘wow, how good is this guy?!’ and obviously the whole hockey world found out real quick just how good he was. Once they put the Hull-and-Oates combination together- the rest is history. He was such a talented player and I put him up there with the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs in the way they saw the game and not many people could do that.”
Brind’Amour was traded to Philadelphia in the 1991 offseason after just two years in St. Louis. He would eventually evolve into a playmaking center and faceoff specialist himself before captaining the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup.
In 2005-06 and 2006-07, Brind’Amour won back-to-back Frank J. Selke Trophies as the NHL’s best defensive forward, a side to his game that he admits he grew more comfortable with as a veteran player, but one that he developed more than 15 years earlier while playing with Oates.
“Obviously you saw how talented he was, but his whole thing was that he knew not just where his teammates were on the ice, but he knew where everyone else was from the other team and he thought that way. That really for me was eye-opening and definitely that helps your game at both ends of the ice.”
Brind’Amour admits that even as a former player, now in his third season with the Hurricanes coaching staff, he continues to learn from his peers and those around him in the game. But nothing he says compares to his rookie season in St. Louis and the experience of playing on a line with two future head coaches in Oates and MacLean.
“I was a sponge, taking in everything that I could. It’s a time that I look back on fondly. I was and am very appreciative of how they treated me and the way they brought me along and taught me. I learned an incredible amount.”