When Todd Nelson was growing up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan he always idolized the magnificent Paul Coffey.
“I enjoyed the way he played the game,” Nelson said. “Let’s face it, when he picked up the puck and got his feet moving, he was pretty to watch. He was the player I always wanted to be.”
Nelson got to watch Coffey a lot when the superstar played in nearby Edmonton with the Oilers. He continued to follow him closely when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When Nelson was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 1989 NHL Draft, he dared not daydream about one day getting to play with his idol. But that is exactly what happened on November 23rd, 1991. Nelson was called up to fill in for Ulf Samuelsson, who came down with an illness.
When Nelson arrived in Pittsburgh, Coffey was the first person to greet him.
“As soon as I walked in, Paul Coffey came over to me and welcomed me to the team. Second guy was Mario (Lemieux)," said Nelson.
“It was a time they were winning Stanley Cups and I was a young guy just trying to cut my teeth in pro hockey,” Nelson said. “It was quite a time for me because we had so many great players in the organization. Walking into that dressing room, you were somewhat starstruck because you had quite a few hall of famers there. It was a good two-year run for them and I was fortunate to play one game for them.”
Yes, Nelson would only get into that one game. Paul Coffey he was not. He moved on to the Washington Capitals organization, playing two more NHL games for them. He even scored a goal.
He would play a decade in the minor leagues - a decade where he saw pretty much anything and everything. It helped him immensely when he stepped behind the bench and became one of the game's top young coaches.