By Mike Heika, DallasStars.com
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Todd Nelson, who was named the Stars' newest assistant coach Thursday, will bring experience and a creative mind to Jim Montgomery's coaching staff, according to Montgomery and general manager Jim Nill.
Montgomery played with Nelson on the 1995-96 Hershey Bears (AHL) and said he always liked Nelson's aggressive approach to hockey.
"We were similar players in how we viewed the game, and I love the way he has brought that to his coaching career," Montgomery told DallasStars.com of Nelson, who led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2017.
"His teams are so well-prepared and so dynamic on the power play, and he brings everything that I want from our team in terms of identity."
Nill was running the Grand Rapids Griffins when Nelson was an assistant coach there, and has maintained contact since moving on to become the GM in Dallas. He said Nelson's resume (309-189-63 in the AHL with Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City) is impressive, and his experience will help Montgomery, who is starting his NHL career with the Stars.
"First of all, he's a good person on and off the ice, but he's also developed himself into a great coach," Nill said. "I've worked with him in Grand Rapids and I've watched his career path as head coach in Oklahoma City playing against our guys in Texas and then in Edmonton and Grand Rapids again. He's very innovative and he's always had great success. I think he's going to be a good fit for Jim."
Montgomery has won in the USHL and in the NCAA, but is making a big transition into the NHL and its 82-game schedule. Nelson has served as an assistant coach in Atlanta (2008-10) and also had a 51-game run as interim head coach of the Oilers in 2014-15 where he went 17-25-9. He will join Stu Barnes, who has been an assistant coach in the NHL for four seasons, including last season with Dallas.
"You always think you're prepared for everything, but I know there are going to be things that pop up where Jim will ask, 'How do I handle this?'" Nill said. "Experience is important and now he has Todd Nelson and Stu Barnes who can help him with this. It's a transition, and they'll be able to discuss things like practice times and travel and the scheduling that goes with playing in the NHL. There's a lot of little things that have to be taken care of in the right way."
Nelson said Montgomery contacted him soon after Montgomery was named head coach in Dallas and that he was immediately intrigued.
"Over the years, we have kept in contact and we've always had similar philosophies in how to play the game," Nelson told reporters in Grand Rapids Thursday. "I think it's going to be a great marriage, and hopefully we have a lot of success."
Nelson is going to be in charge of the power play, Barnes will overlook 5-on-5 play, and a third assistant will be in charge of the penalty kill, Montgomery said. Nill said the team is in the process of finding that third assistant coach, and that there is no timeline.
Montgomery said he wants his coaching staff to challenge him and each other.
"Todd and I look at some things the same and some things differently, and I like that," Montgomery said. "I want people to challenge me and push me, the same as I will push them. I think a healthy discussion is always a good thing for a coaching staff."
Both Montgomery and Nelson have had success at the lower levels, and both are hungry to see if they can find success in the NHL. In addition to his AHL championship in 2017, Nelson also won titles with Muskegon in the UHL in 2004 and 2005. He said he's excited about coming to a team that has plenty of talent already in place, and said that was one reason he was able to leave a good situation in Grand Rapids.
"I wasn't just moving on to a team to be an assistant coach," Nelson said. "I was moving on to a team to be an assistant coach that is going to win hockey games, and that's what made Dallas so intriguing."