Named the Edmonton Oilers new head coach on Monday, Dallas Eakins’ Florida roots has helped to shape his coaching path.
Not only was the Oilers' 12th coach in franchise history born in the state of Florida, living the first seven years of his life in Dade City, which is roughly less than hour north of Tampa, but Eakins attributes his professional choice to some sound advice from the Panthers first head coach in franchise history. See it was there where Roger Neilson put the idea in Eakins' head about life after hockey.
"I would like to thank my great friend Roger Neilson who told me on many occasions that my mark in the NHL would be made as a coach because I wasn't a very good player," quipped Eakins in his opening statement at his introductory press conference.
Eakins was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 10th round (208th overall) in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft but didn't make his NHL debut until the 1992-93 season with Winnipeg, playing in 14 games. He signed as a free agent with Florida on July 14, 1993 and became the only Florida native to play in the NHL [at the time] when he suited up on Nov. 23, 1993, against Hartford.
The defenseman would play 41 of his 120 NHL games with the Panthers, including 18 under the Hockey Hall of Famer, but it was the time spent not playing that truly helped him during the two years with the Panthers.
"Roger Nielson, first and foremost, his work ethic," said Eakins. "We never really saw the game quite the same way but he taught me a ton about the game."
Bouncing around hockey from the time he turned pro in 1988 until retiring following the 2003-04 season, Eakins has made the transition from player to coach (spending the last four years as head coach of AHL’s Toronto Marlies) and he still leans on what he recalls while sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.
"I played in about 800 different cities," said Eakins. "A lot of times I was a healthy scratch, especially at the NHL level, and I wasn’t just sitting upstairs eating popcorn. I was taking notes."
And that led him to Monday where he could think back to where it all really kicked off.
"I think it's a proud day because I've worked hard at this trade. I think it's something that's come naturally," said Eakins. "I think I knew that Roger was right, that I knew coaching was in my blood."
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