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Can Ken Hitchcock turn Mike Yeo into a better coach?

Mike Yeo won’t be afraid to disagree with Ken Hitchcock at points this upcoming season with the St. Louis Blues. 

“My role as assistant coach this year will be pretty simple. I will tell him what I believe every time. He might not like it. He might disagree and if he disagrees and wants to do something else then I’ll go out there and do exactly what he wants to do,” Yeo said on a Monday conference call with reporters. “I believe that’s the role of the assistant coach and I also believe that’s how I’ll learn the most and get the most out of this season.”

On Monday the Blues announced they hired Yeo as the team’s new associate coach. Yeo will then ascend to the head coaching position in 2017-18, replacing the 64-year-old Hitchcock who has said the upcoming season will be his last.

Yeo, who was fired by the Minnesota Wild in February after five years with the team, was effusive in his praise of Hitchcock as someone who could help him reach the next level as a coach. 

Yeo went 173-132-44 with the Wild and held an 11-17 playoff record in three trips to the postseason. He never made it past the second-round.

“I’m 42 years old. I have a good amount of experience behind me. I had a decent run in Minnesota but I’m not looking to be a decent coach. I’m looking to be a great coach,” Yeo said. “I think the opportunity to work with a guy like Hitch, to have the opportunity to learn the group before you jump into that coaching position, I just felt like this was the perfect fit and that’s why we’re so excited about it.”

Yeo’s name had also been mentioned with the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators.

"You look at the teams since he was let go with coaching options open and all three have interviewed him. We tried to strike before Anaheim, Calgary, made their final decisions. We talked last week and he said if we were first in line, we were the team he'd like to go to. So we got ahead of the curve a little bit," general manager Doug Armstrong said. 

Yeo’s tenure with the Wild has often been remembered for offensive shortcomings (Minnesota scored 2.45 goals per-game under Yeo last season) but really the team’s major mid-season slumps did him in. 

Wrote Hockey Wilderness when the team fired Yeo after it lost 13 of 14 games last season:

This has not been the first time we've seen a Yeo-coached Wild team fall in a massive slump. In fact, these slumps were a regular occurrence during his tenure, with each season having a stretch of losing lasting around one month.

But Yeo also managed himself out of some very tight jams. In December 2013, a 6-game losing streak had many wondering if the Wild should make a coaching change before Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov helped the Wild to the playoffs. Last January, another 6-game losing streak had pundits calling for a coaching change in Minnesota before the Wild traded for Devan Dubnyk.

Yeo was asked if he had diagnosed these problems and said they were an important part of his own self-assessment on what happened with the Wild. 

“That was one of the areas I think even more-so than anything else where I tried to reflect on and look at what I could do differently and what I would do differently and certainly have some ideas in that area,” he said.

Yeo wasn’t specific but noted how he did a lot of soul searching shortly after his ouster with the Wild. 

“You learn a great deal from your successes but I think oftentimes you learn more from your failures,” Yeo said. “I can tell you that I had almost a different feel about myself about two weeks after I lost my job and had a chance to look back and reflect on the things that I might do differently.”

But is Hitchcock really the right coach to help Yeo work on his weaknesses? And are the Blues the best place where Yeo can succeed?

Both Hitchcock and Yeo are known as defensive-oriented coaches who preach hard-checking hockey and structure.

Yeo has struggled with the offensive side of coaching, and while Hitchcock has coaxed better scoring results out of his players he’s still not seen as a scoring-oriented bench boss.

Also a lot of the Wild’s talented young forwards like Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund never turned into consistent scoring forwards under Yeo.

Young defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba still have struggled to take the next step in their development. 

The Blues have young depth in Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Colton Parayko. 

Yeo thinks that in some ways you deal with the hand your dealt and Minnesota’s personnel was different than what he will have with the Blues.

“I think part of it is you go into a new situation just much better equipped than you were the first time around. I think I evolved and grew while I was in Minnesota. But I think when you go somewhere you’re kind of, it’s almost a little bit of what you are,” Yeo said. “You can grow a little bit but I just feel going into a new situation that I’m in a much different place and much more in the bank as far as knowledge and how to deal with certain situations and where that can take you.”

Really Yeo hopes this season he can help the Blues finally reach their elusive goal of winning a Stanley Cup under Hitchcock. And in the process he wants to see how Hitchcock operates. For now he made clear Hitchcock is the boss and after 2016-17 he’ll worry about the future and what he needs to do as the eventual head coach of the Blues. 

“I know exactly what my role is and I’m very comfortable with my role and that is to help him,” Yeo said. “I feel pretty humbled and honored to be a part of his final season. Such a great career, I really want to make it a special one for him and I want to do what we can as the St. Louis Blues to have a great season as far as putting wins together on the ice.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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