Scott Stevens, one of the best defensive defensemen of his day and certainly the most physically intimidating, is stepping out of the television studio to join the Wild as an assistant coach under Bruce Boudreau.
This is not Stevens’ first foray into coaching.
The Hall of Fame player, who captained the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup championships, was a Devils assistant and, in 2014-15, became co-coach with Adam Oates after former General Manager Lou Lamoriello fired Pete DeBoer.
“I love helping, I love teaching, I love talking hockey,” said Stevens, an analyst for NHL Network. “I love to give whatever I’ve learned over the years playing the game. I love seeing players reach their potential and find consistency in their game. When you find that consistency and how to maintain that, that’s when you become a great player. I had to learn that.”
Stevens, 52, the fifth overall pick by the Washington Capitals in the 1982 draft, played 22 years for the Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Devils. A Norris Trophy finalist multiple times, Stevens was the 2000 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP and played in 13 All-Star Games.
He was one of the heaviest hitters of his era, and his knowledge of defense is unsurpassed.
His 1,635 career games are second all-time among defensemen — 16 games behind Hall of Famer Chris Chelios. Among blue-liners, his 908 points rank 12th, 2,785 penalty minutes rank fourth and his 3,240 shots rank 11th.
His plus-393 is tied for 13th all-time; he never had a minus season in his career. His 233 playoff games rank sixth all-time.
“Just to bring in his expertise and history, I think that’s a real bonus for us,” Boudreau said. “He is one of the greatest defensemen. I think he’ll have instant respect. Any team would have loved to have him, but until now, he wasn’t ready to leave New Jersey.”
Boudreau said Stevens qualifies as his first assistant, and he’ll run the defense and penalty kill. The Wild’s penalty kill, tops in the NHL in 2014-15, toppled to 27th in 2015-16.
“When you have speed like the Wild do, I think we have to use that speed to our advantage killing penalties,” Stevens said.
Wild veteran Zach Parise knows Stevens well from his days in New Jersey.
“He’s the quietest and humblest Hall of Famer you’ll ever meet,” Parise said. “He’s going to be so good for us and our D and PK.”
Stevens raved about the Wild’s blue line mobility. He said he has long admired Ryan Suter as a “complete defensemen,” feels Jonas Brodin is ready to “take the next step and play big minutes,” loves Marco Scandella’s “all-around game” and hopes to help mold youngsters Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly into top NHLers.
Scott Niedermayer, Boudreau’s former Anaheim colleague and Stevens’ former Devils teammate, called Boudreau on Stevens’ behalf. When Boudreau got to his offseason home in Hershey, Pa., he drove to Stevens’ home in Far Hills, N.J., to meet.
“We connected right away,” Stevens said. “It felt like I had known Bruce for 20 years. We talked for two hours and it felt like it was 30 minutes talking hockey.”
Boudreau hopes to name a second assistant who will help him run the power play by the end of the week or early next week. He says there “are a lot of viable candidates.”
Longtime NHLer Steve Thomas was recently let go by Tampa Bay. Boudreau knows him, but he said they haven’t spoken. He also hasn’t talked to recently departed St. Louis Blues associate coach Brad Shaw. Oates, one of Parise’s mentors and his personal skills coach, is not a candidate, sources say.
Boudreau’s right-hand man, Bob Woods, helped run the power play in Anaheim and still is a candidate, Boudreau indicated, but Woods is GM and coach of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, so it would seem unlikely he would leave for a second assistant job.
The Wild has re-signed assistant coach Darby Hendrickson and goalie coach Bob Mason. Assistant coach Andrew Brunette is returning to the front office.
• The Wild’s preseason schedule was released Tuesday. It includes home games Sept. 27 against Colorado, Oct. 2 against Carolina and Oct. 8 against Winnipeg. Road games are Sept. 26 at Buffalo, Sept. 29 at Winnipeg and Oct. 4 at Colorado.