Todd Nelson's goal is to be a National Hockey League head coach. In the meantime, Nelson embraces coaching the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, who open training camp Sunday at the Cox Convention Center.
Nelson, 43, was a finalist last summer for the Edmonton vacancy, but the Oilers named Ralph Krueger to replace Tom Renney, who was let go after the season. An NHL assistant two seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers before becoming the Barons' head coach their inaugural season, Nelson signed a three-year deal with OKC.
“Of course I'd want to go up in the NHL if that opportunity arose, but coaching here is the right path for me right now,” Nelson said. “In the future that could change. Three years down the road, I might want to get back in the NHL (as an assistant).
“This is a great opportunity for me personally to work with a great bunch of young guys and help these players make the jump to the NHL. Right now, for my career, I want to establish myself in the American Hockey League, have success here and hopefully win a championship.”
Nelson led the Barons to the playoffs his first season, ending a five-year playoff drought for Edmonton's Triple-A affiliate. Last season, the Barons reached the Western Conference finals. General manager Bill Scott said Nelson's open-door policy and communication skills were key factors.
“Everybody is on the same page all the time,” Scott said. “If a player isn't sure why his ice time is down, he knows he can go to Todd to see what the situation is and what he needs to work on. Todd will give him that answer straightforward.
“Players respect that. Players nowadays don't want to be babied. They want the straight talk and know what they need to do to improve. Todd has done a great job with that.”
This season is unique. The Barons will start the season with three of the Oilers' top young prospects, who will play in the AHL during the NHL lockout.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick a year ago, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie. Jordan Eberle has played in 147 NHL games. Justin Schultz was a star at Wisconsin before making his pro debut.