Former NHL head coach Marc Crawford got his name back in the headlines this season when the potential top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft decided to come and play for his Zurich team in the Swiss national league.
That young man was Auston Matthews.
Matthews’ decision to buck the WHL and play pro in Europe before his draft year is almost unprecedented, especially in this era. It was just his luck that he ended up on the bench in front of Crawford who, as it turns out, has a ton of experience coaching young superstars.
“Yes, I can help [Matthews]. I’ve been in this spot a number of times,” Crawford said to Sporstnet’s Damien Cox last September. “I had Owen Nolan in junior. Then there were the Sedins, Anze Kopitar, Jamie Benn. I’ve seen what those players had to learn. Auston doesn’t know everything yet. He knows that. He’s got the right attitude. He wants to be liked for the right reasons. He wants to learn the right way.”
Crawford also said in November to the Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan that Matthews “has better stick skills, and better puck protection skills than any of those guys had at the same age. He really, really, has a great ability to carry his speed through the neutral zone and he’s difficult to defend against.”
Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce similarly followed Matthews’ progression this season and his relationship with Crawford.
Said one scouting director about Matthews: “He’ll be playing for Marc Crawford who’s a good coach and is good with young players.”
With that, here’s a look at some of the stars Crawford has coached through their rookie seasons in the NHL. Though Matthews’ year in Zurich can’t directly be compared to an NHL rookie in North America, the intention here is to find a correlation between Coach Crawford and his ability to work with youngsters.
Peter Forsberg, 1994-95
As the coach of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, Crawford welcomed future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg to the NHL. Forsberg scored 50 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game season, won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, made the all-rookie team and helped the Nordiques to first place in the division.
When the Nordiques moved to Colorado the following season, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, 2000-01
After Vancouver Canucks general manager Brian Burke worked his magic to secure the second- and third-overall picks in the 2000 NHL Draft and selected Daniel and Henrik Sedin, he passed them over to the capable hands of Crawford.
Daniel recorded 20 goals and 34 points in 75 games that year, while Henrik registered 20 assists and 29 points in 82 games. The Canucks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sedin twins will go down as two of the best Canucks in franchise history, helping the teams to 11 playoff appearances, back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2011 and 2012 and a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2011. Both are within 40 points of reaching 1,000 for their careers.
Anze Kopitar, 2006-07
The first Slovenian to play in the NHL jumped more than the typical amount of hurdles to reach the world’s top league and once he did, selected 11th overall in the 2005 draft by the Los Angeles Kings, it was Crawford who oversaw his rookie season.
Kopitar stormed out of the gate, finishing second in scoring on a struggling Kings club with 61 points in 72 games. He finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting behind Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny and Jordan Staal.
The 28-year-old is now one of the premiere centres in the NHL, having won two Stanley Cups, playing in three All-Star Games and boasting two Selke nominations for best defensive player of the year.
Jamie Benn, 2009-10
A fifth-round draft choice by the Dallas Stars in 2007, Benn entered the NHL under Crawford’s tutelage. While not as highly-touted as the other names on this list, Benn has become one of the top players in the league, winning the Art Ross Trophy for most points in 2014-15. He scored 22 goals and 41 points in his rookie season.
Benn finished sixth in Stars scoring that year, behind Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow — all players who have since moved on. Benn is now the organization’s captain.
He also won a gold medal with Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics.