Being a professional hockey player, coach, or general manager may seem very different from the new job you’re starting, but you’d be surprised how many similarities exist. After all, NHL teams have the same structure as most companies. They are made up of teammates, managers, and executives, and the skills that lead to success in the NHL can also help you succeed with your company.

Here are some examples of what three NHL pros can teach us about starting a new job.

Auston Matthews

Drafted first overall in 2016, Auston Matthews had an immediate impact this year, with 40 goals and 69 points. To get there, Matthews put several skills on display, namely:

  • Problem solving: Matthews didn’t throw in the towel when he went on a nine-game pointless slump, instead he worked harder, spending countless hours watching  video of Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg to find out what makes them successful. Instead of being satisfied with his impressive results, he sought out to improve even more. This is great example to follow for anyone starting a new job, but especially if it’s early in your career; you will make mistakes and have slumps, but the key thing is using those experiences to get better.
  • Dealing with pressure: Toronto is known as a tough hockey town. In fact, in a poll done by ESPN, players didn’t want to be traded to Toronto because of their insane media market. Matthews handled the media pressure by being humble and respectful and believing in his own abilities. This is a great model to follow. To be a successful employee, you need to be able to excel under pressure, to deliver under tight deadlines, no matter what is thrown at you. Be humble and respectful, stay focused on your long-term goals, and don’t get thrown off track when things don’t go your way.

If you do, you might end up becoming a leader, just like Matthews. Consider what Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Sun about his first-line centre: “(Matthews has) the work ethic and mental toughness that’s going to be a good example for everyone who becomes a Leaf.”

Claude Julien

The Montreal Canadiens may have been bounced in the first round, but it wasn’t long ago when the team looked like they could miss out on the playoffs all together. From January to February 14, the team lost eight of 12 games. So what happened? The Habs let go of head coach Michel Therrien and rehired Claude Julien, who had most recently been at the helm of the rival Boston Bruins.

The team went on to win 10 of their last 15 games.

Here are three main skills all managers can learn from Julien:

  • Decision making: A struggling Montreal team needed a shot in the arm, and Julien was quick to make changes that got the most out of the team’s roster. He made these changes early, letting the team know exactly what he wanted. This firm decisiveness is a good lesson for managers starting at a new job; people expect you to get the lay of the land, but you’ll also have to make it clear what you want and how you want to do it.
  • Patience: Julien’s changes didn’t lead to success over night. There were several mistakes made when the players started to switch to the pass-heavy style, and several games where the Habs were bailed out by their superstar goalie.  But by continuing to push and work with his team, the system became ingrained and more natural, and success followed. The takeaway here is that your drive and ambition should be matched by patience and understanding. Give your team a chance.
  • Getting the most out of your team: Julien came in and made changes to the team’s style of play immediately, swapping Therrien’s dump and chase strategy for a five-skater passing approach. This change highlighted the Canadiens’ strengths, like puck handling and speed, and allowed them to spend more time on offense. “I think he’s good at finding the strength of every player and finding ways to get the best out of them, whether that’s veterans or younger guys,” Bruins player Patrice Bergeron has said of Julien. The best managers look to maximize the abilities of their team, and this often requires patience and having an open mind.

Jim Rutherford

It might seem like the Pittsburgh Penguins have always been a star-studded team, but they didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle until Jim Rutherford took over as GM in 2014.

Within a month of starting the position, Rutherford made one of the most controversial trades of his career, letting go of 40-goal-scorer James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Rutherford decided that finding the right character was more important than a sniper like Neal, and wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger. The Pens won the cup in 2016, and Rutherford was named GM of the year.

Here are three important skills that executives can learn from Rutherford:

  • Be open to change: A successful executive cannot be afraid of change, especially when it comes to personnel. They need to make changes that will get the best outcome for the team and company, even if it means making a controversial decision (like giving up Neal). This is especially true when starting at a new company. You don’t want to rock the boat too much, but it’s important to put your stamp on things from the get-go.
  • See the big picture: One of the best trades the Penguins made was trading David Perron and Adam Clendening to the Ducks for Carl Hegelin (who, critics were quick to point out, only had four goals at the time). Rutherford saw that Hagelin’s skating would fit the team’s style, and complement his existing roster. This kind of big picture vision is key for an executive. What are the company’s strengths? What are its weaknesses? Once you’ve figured that out, it’s easier to look outside the box for creative solutions that will help the company grow – even if it looks odd to everyone else.

There you have it. Three examples from the NHL that can help you make a mark on your new job. Good luck!


Mia Gordon is a former professional tennis player and a sports broadcaster. Over the course of six years, she has worked for TSN, CBC Olympics, and the Sun News Network. She is now a host, reporter, and producer for Sportsnet and the National Lacrosse League.