Through hard work and dedication, Adam Oates overcame not being drafted to become one of the game's elite setup men. Originally signed by Detroit his playmaking prowess took center stage following a trade to the St. Louis Blues. Oates led the NHL in assists three times, including a career high of 1.48 assists per game in '90-91, earning second-team All-Star honors and 142 points in '92-93 as a member of the Boston Bruins. Just the eighth player in NHL history to record 1,000 career assists, Oates finished sixth all-time with 1,079 and 13th in all-time scoring with 1,420 points during his 19 seasons.
Thats the inscription on the Hockey Hall of Fame plaque for center Adam Oates, who will go into the Hall in Toronto on Monday night in a ceremony along with Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic and Pavel Bure. It really says it all about Oates, who was never the biggest, the strongest, the fastest or the toughest guy on the ice during his NHL career. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder was instead one of the smartest and most instinctual passers that the game has ever seen, and racked up 1,079 career assists while feeding pucks to Brett Hull, Cam Neely, Petr Bondra and others over the course of his 18-year career.
His pass first instinct was something taught early in his life while growing up in Toronto, and it was a skill he continued to develop as he went undrafted in both Major Junior hockey and the NHL.
If you can be unselfish, your teammates will always like you, said Oates to reporters up in Toronto on Monday afternoon while describing the pass-happy mantra his father David instilled into him from a young age.
It just kind of became my role where obviously trying to please my dad. I think its just the way that youre 7 years old and your dads like, Pass the puck. Youre a centerman.
Oates first made his name after getting traded to the St. Louis Blues when he formed the Hull & Oates combo with the Golden Brett, but he had his best NHL seasons while donning the Black and Gold sweater of the Boston Bruins. Two of his four career 100 point seasons came in Boston, and Oates reached career-highs in goals (45), assists (97) and points (142) in a magical 1992-93 campaign in Boston.
The only Bs player to ever dish out more than 97 assists in a regular season is a chap named Bobby Orr, and the only player to ever score more than 142 points in a Bs sweater was Phil Esposito. So the cerebral playmaking pivot absolutely left his mark during his six seasons with the Bruins.
Amazingly that was also the season Neely was limited to 13 games played during to hip, knee and leg problems, and it was Joe Juneau and Dmitri Kvartalnov that each popped in 30-plus goals for the Bruins. The following season, however, Oates helped Neely reach 50 goals scored in an amazing 49 games.
Its only ever been done a handful of times, and I played with two of them, Oates told the Washington Post. When Brett did it in St. Louis . . . I mean he was taking the league by storm. And then when Cam did it, he basically did it on one leg. And watching him prepare every day to try and just play the game, let alone do what he was doing, was an incredible feat. I had the best seats for both of them.
As Oates alluded to, earlier in his career Hull also scored 50 goals in 50 games and its no coincidence both Hull and Neely achieved the rare goal-scoring feat with Oates dishing from the center position.
Adam is quite possibly the best backhanded passer that the game has ever seen, said Neely. He had such great vision and a high hockey IQ, but he was also underrated for his defensive play.
Oates still ranks eighth all-time in Bruins franchise history with his 357 assists accumulated while playing for Boston, and finished with 142 goals and 499 points in 368 games before he was dealt to the Washington Capitals. When he steps up to the podium to accept his nomination to the Hall of Fame hell have played for the Red Wings, Blues, Capitals, Flyers, Ducks and Oilers in his NHL career.
But those around Boston will know that Oates spent his best years powering the Bruins attack in the early-to-mid 1990s, and his trademark backhanded passes were authored with one of the most uniquely short stick blades in NHL history.