Jack McIlhargey is still an active scout for the Philadelphia Flyers so he wasn’t in a position Tuesday to declare his old pal John Stevens as a top candidate for the Vancouver Canucks’ vacant head coaching position.
But Jack Mac did say Stevens is itching for a second chance to run a National Hockey League bench. In McIlhargey’s opinion, Stevens is eminently qualified.
“John definitely wants another opportunity in the National Hockey League,” said McIlhargey, who was an assistant coach under Stevens for two years and 26 games when both were with the Flyers. “That’s his goal. He’s a classy guy who does an excellent job. He’s very organized, very knowledgeable and a very good communicator.
“He deserves another chance and he is ready. He’s a very, very good coach.”
Stevens, 47 and from Campbellton, N.B., was linked to the Canuck coach search this past weekend. He’s been an assistant with the L.A. Kings for four seasons, moving on to SoCal after his time in Philly ended. He won a Cup with the Kings last year and has a chance at a repeat after L.A. punted the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to stay alive in the 2013 tournament. Stevens coached the Flyers for 264 games from 2006-09 and reached the Eastern Conference final once. As a minor-league coach, he won an American Hockey League title with the Philly Phantoms in 2004-05.
Stevens also played 12 professional seasons as a defenceman, most of those in the minors, after a junior career with the Oshawa Generals. (One of his Oshawa teammates was Canucks icon Kirk McLean.)
His NHL playing career consisted of 53 games with the Flyers and Hartford Whalers and ended in 1999 because of an eye injury. In the minors, he won three AHL championships as a player and was captain on two of the victorious teams, the 1990-91 Springfield Indians and the 1997-98 Phantoms.
“You’re not going to find a coach who works harder than John,” McIlhargey said.
“From my side as an assistant, he was a great guy, You learn from him and he listens to you. He communicates well with older guys and with younger players. Sure he can get fiery. I mean, every coach gets mad once in a while, but he knows when to get mad and he’s not the kind of guy who flies off the handle. He’s very controlled and composed and very competent.”
And good with the media?
“The media would like him,” McIlhargey chuckled. “He’s very respectful. He can handle the media.”
Meanwhile, according to a Toronto Sun story, the Canucks are free to approach Dallas Eakins, currently head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, about the Vancouver vacancy. It was reported on the weekend the Canucks had requested permission to talk to Eakins, but Leafs vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin told the paper permission was “just a formality” as Eakins has a window in his contract to pursue NHL jobs.
Leafs prospect Morgan Rielly played 22 games for Eakins after his junior team, the Moose Jaw Warriors, missed the WHL playoffs. He enjoyed his stint with the Marlies and gave Eakins a hearty endorsement.
“It seems to me he’s prepared to be a coach at the next level,” said Rielly, the 19-year-old West Vancouver native. “In terms of how he was during games, he was always in control of himself. He would never jump the gun to hit the panic button. In terms of preparing us for games, I think he did a really good job. He was always sure the players were on the same page. He was always prepared.”
Eakins, 46, was a journeyman defenceman during his playing days and suited up for an amazing 17 different professional teams in three leagues from 1988-2004.
His NHL career consisted of 120 games with the Jets, Panthers, Blues, Coyotes, Rangers and Leafs.
In the minors, he played in places such as Baltimore, Moncton, Cincinnati, Worcester, Springfield, Binghamton and New Haven. He also spent one season in the Canucks organization with the Manitoba Moose (2003-04). It was his last as a player.
As a coach, Eakins was an AHL assistant with the Marlies for one season and an NHL assistant with the Leafs for two under Paul Maurice. He’s been the Toronto Marlies head coach for the last four years and reached the AHL final in 2011-12.
“Dallas was always extremely open with me,” Rielly said. “He told me ‘you’re here to play and get better’ and he made me feel comfortable right from Day One. That helped me a lot in terms of playing the game there. I had a great time playing for the Marlies and I had a great experience under Dallas.”
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