Jason Demers caught his eye, but it was a quick flash. McLellan soon realized he had to focus on players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. Someone like Demers, a seventh-round draft pick, wasn't going to be in San Jose.
Once the Sharks were unceremoniously knocked out of the playoffs by Anaheim last spring, McLellan took a trip to Worcester, Mass., to watch the Sharks' top minor-league affiliate, again seeing some of those same players he saw in training camp seven months earlier.
There was Demers again.
"I came back thinking, 'This fella has a chance,'" McLellan told NHL.com.
McLellan was right.
Demers admittedly showed up at training camp thinking he would spend another season in Worcester, but this time he caught McLellan's eye for more than a passing glance, won his spot on the blue line, and however humbled he may be, he's not giving it up.
"It's still so surreal for me to be up here," Demers, who has a power-play goal, 12 assists and a plus-4 rating in 25 games, told NHL.com. "I'm still taking everything in and trying to figure everything out. It happened really fast for me."
Fast is not the way to describe Demers' development into a professional hockey player. He was a late bloomer in junior, playing more of a stay-at-home style for three seasons before finally showing his all-round offensive skills while with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2007-08. He had 70 points in 73 games, including the playoffs.
Demers, though, already was 20 years old, so he wasn't taken by San Jose in the 2008 Entry Draft until the seventh round (No. 186).
"When I went to Victoriaville I played with a guy who was very offensive (Maxim Noreau), so I found it good for me to work on my defensive game," Demers said. "My last year he was gone to play in the AHL and they told me I had to take a more offensive role. I was going to get as much ice as I could handle and I just had to make things happen. I was under fire so I had to learn on my feet and figure out how to be an offensive guy."
The Sharks don't want to mess with Demers' offensive game -- it's good enough. The focus, as it is with most young offensive-minded defenseman, is in the defensive zone.
"For all the good that happens with his ability to read the ice and make plays, when we hold him accountable it's for decisions he makes in his own end and around the net," McLellan said. "The accountability goes up in that area."
Demers caught on quick and is his own critic.
"It's about consistency, playing the clock and knowing when to go and when not to go in certain times in the game," Demers said. "I went from being a defensive guy to an offensive guy and now I'm trying to mesh both of them. It's taking a little bit longer than I had hoped, but I'm trying to find that niche."
Demers said playing consistently on a shift-by-shift basis has been the hardest part of his adjustment.
"You can't take a shift off (in the NHL)," he said. "Somebody will make you look bad."
McLellan recently had a talk about consistency with Demers, who has improved greatly in that area over the first two months of the season.
"It's still so surreal for me to be up here. I'm still taking everything in and trying to figure everything out. It happened really fast for me."
-- Jason Demers
To gain perspective, Demers tries to hover around players like Boyle and Blake.
"I try to be a sponge around them," Demers said.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is only 22 but has played in 300 NHL games, including 30 in the playoffs, has been a mentor.
Demers may have taken time to develop, but he's had to grow up fast. He started slow in Worcester last season because he was "making a lot of mental mistakes, mistakes that are uncharacteristic of me," he said. "I went from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a bigger pond."
The pond did not include any adult supervision. His family and billets were back in Quebec.
"I was living on my own for the first time and had to police myself," said Demers, who wound up with a respectable 33 points in 78 games in Worcester. "I guess I wasn't mature enough in that aspect and it took me about 10-15 games before I figured it out. It was a little bit of a rollercoaster ride there. I had to grow up fast. It's a bigger jump to the NHL."
He's landed on his feet. After seeing him last spring, McLellan figured that would happen.
"His understanding of how we want to do things is clearer than it was earlier and with that clutter gone it's got to be easier for him to play," McLellan said. "His awareness of how he will be held accountable is greater, too. He has run with this opportunity."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com