Before switching from player to coach, Dean Evason had a teammate whose skates never stopped moving.
He was relentless — “like a dog on a bone,” Evason recalled. Even in practice, he exerted maximum effort, a style that would tick off those sharing the ice with him.
“This is the guy I wanted to look up to,” Evason said. “This is the guy I wanted to emulate every day in practice and the games because he didn’t quit. He just kept going and going.”
After first joining up on a line with the AHL’s Binghamton Whalers during the 1984-85 season, the two later crossed paths amid promotions to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers before both suited up for the San Jose Sharks in their inaugural season in 1991.
They reunited again, in 2012, but not as players.
Evason was a coach, tasked with leading the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate and his former linemate was now his boss as general manager of the Milwaukee Admirals. Paul Fenton hadn’t changed a bit.
“He doesn’t quit,” Evason said. “He just keeps working and working and working until he allows himself to have success. That’s what he did as a player, and now that’s obviously what he does as a manager.”
Fenton has graduated to a new title, getting tabbed as the third GM in Wild history earlier this week after 20 seasons with the Predators as an executive.
Never has he been at the helm of an NHL team before, but those who know Fenton don’t expect him to ditch the tireless work ethic that’s defined his career.
“He will be himself,” Evason said. “He won’t try to be anyone else.”
It wasn’t long after Fenton was hired by the Predators as a director of player personnel in 1998 that Nashville GM David Poile could sense Fenton’s ambition to manage his own team.
As he advanced in the front office, getting promoted to assistant GM, Fenton merited looks for GM openings in the NHL but nothing clicked. He remained patient, Poile noticed, and that paid off. He landed in a situation that Poile says suits Fenton, with Wild owner Craig Leipold knowing Fenton from the time Leipold previously owned the Predators.
“I’m a big believer in timing and being in the right place in the right time,” Poile said. “Just the fact Craig was familiar with our organization and how we did things, how we worked and, of course, knew Paul, it just seemed to make the most sense of anything that’s come up for Paul. I’m thinking that this is a real good fit, and there’s no question that he’s ready for the job.”
The direct approach Fenton relied upon as a player who starred at Boston University before 10 seasons in the pros, including 411 NHL games, has translated to a straightforward, honest, approachable demeanor as a manager. Communication, Evason believes, is Fenton’s strength.
Being an astute judge of talent has become his calling card, but Evason also acknowledged Fenton has a knack for seeing beyond the statistics — an attribute reinforced by Fenton’s contributions in Nashville, with the Predators’ acquisition of franchise goalie Pekka Rinne (eighth round), top-four defenseman Mattias Ekholm (fourth round) and scoring winger Viktor Arvidsson (fourth round) among their finds later in the draft.
“My guess, without ever being a scout, is you can see the player having the skill set to play in the National Hockey League,” Evason explained. “What you don’t see is the intangibles, the desire, the heart, the grit, the no-quit attitude. He sees that in players and to be honest with you, it’s because of who he was and the type of player that he was.”
A culture based on character is important to him; it was actually part of his pitch to Wild brass, with a “We’re going to win and lose as a family” theme prominent.
“This is not a me vs. the world or this is my way or the highway,” said Fenton’s agent, Neil Glasberg. “He’s very inclusive, but he’s really looking at this Wild opportunity as a family.”
Fenton reiterated that message Tuesday when he was introduced by the Wild. And his determination to do what it takes to win, a persistence that helped him earn this job.
“It’s his time,” Glasberg said.