SUN Hockey Pool

HHOF Profile: Adam Oates 'had eyes in the back of his head'

Hall of Fame bound Adam Oates

Hall of Fame bound Adam Oates "was easily one of the most cerebral players in the game," according to ex-NHLer Steve Thomas. (JOE GIZA/Reuters file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:48 PM ET

In case you think Adam Oates was awarded 158 assists in 90 Jr. A games by overly generous scorekeeping, an eyewitness begs to differ.

"I had 69 goals one year on that team (the Markham Waxers)," said linemate Steve Thomas, "and I bet 60 of them were empty-netters. Because Adam would rather have had the assists. It was just crazy how great a passer he was."

Oates' magnanimity with the puck knew no bounds in the NHL, where his 1,079 assists are sixth in league history, in a league with names such as Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. Yet Oates is the one player in this year's Hall class who was not drafted, either from Markham or based on his three strong years of NCAA hockey with RPI.

"I grew late, I was slow, I never really got the exposure," Oates once explained. "I was never really an attractive player to scout. I wasn't surprised I wasn't drafted. But I did score a lot of points on every level I played on. Teams always take a lot of gambles; I always thought that I would have been a good one."

The Detroit Red Wings took that risk and then absorbed some severe heat for paying the unproven Oates a seven-figure salary. Oates proved his critics wrong, except the beneficiaries were Brett Hull and the St. Louis Blues, who acquired him in 1989. Oates had more than 200 helpers in less than three seasons, the ideal centre for the Golden Brett scoring machine.

"I can't believe we only played together two-and-a-half years, because it felt like 10," Oates said. "It was just so special. We just really hit it off as buddies. We played the game the same way, we understood each other, the chemistry was just excellent."

Hull had 70 goals three times, yet never more than 60 without Oates as his centre.

"Adam was easily one of the most cerebral players in the game," Thomas said. "His hand-eye co-ordination, his ability to watch plays develop. As they said with Gretzky, it was like he had eyes in the back of his head."

Oates often credited his hockey vision to his background in lacrosse where he's on the honour roll of top scorers in Ontario Jr. A for 1981 with the Etobicoke Eclipse. His father David, who emigrated from England, also raised him on tales of the great footballer Sir Stanley Matthews. The unselfish Matthews was dubbed the "Wizard of the Dribble," but made a point to let teammates finish his great plays.

"My father always said that if you're unselfish, the other players will like you," Adam said. "It just kind of became my role, obviously trying to please Dad and then just becoming a playmaker out of that."

The victim of a roster shakeup in Detroit, a contract spat saw him leave the Blues to join the Boston Bruins midway during the 1991-92 season. For the second time in his career, Oates would be party to 50 goals in 50 games, this time by Cam Neely. Oates gave himself a tough act to follow with 97 helpers in '92-93, but was still a force when Boston traded him to Washington four years later, in time for the Caps' run to the Cup final. Oates would reach the final twice, with Washington and later with Thomas and the 2003 Anaheim Ducks.

"He was a guy who stepped up behind the scenes in team meetings, voiced his opinions and took charge of tactical situations," Thomas said. "He was so close to Gretzky in some offensive categories that it's no surprise he is going into the Hall. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's now a head coach in the NHL (hired by the Caps the same day his Hall induction was announced). He'll be one of the best at that, too."

THE ADAM OATES FILE

Age: 50

Born: Toronto, Ont.

By the numbers: Played 19 years for seven teams, including a 97-assist year with Brett Hull and the St. Louis Blues ... Ranks sixth in career NHL assists with 1,079 ... Leading scorer on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's team, which brought him to NHL scouts' attention.


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