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DeBoer: Difficult task choosing North America roster

by Tim Wharnsby / NHL.com

TORONTO -- Todd McLellan and Peter DeBoer will be reunited on the coaching staff of Team North America for the World Cup of Hockey in 10 months.

It is a strange dynamic, considering DeBoer replaced McLellan as head coach of the San Jose Sharks last summer. But the two did work together to successfully steer Sidney Crosby and Canada to a gold-medal victory at the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Prague, Czech Republic last spring.

Prior to the Sharks' 5-4 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, DeBoer took time to answer questions about the World Cup.

Considering the connection to the Sharks, it's strange you will be on Todd McLellan's Team North America coaching staff. Yes, you were on the Canadian coaching staff with him at the world championship last spring, but how well do you know your San Jose predecessor?

"I didn't know Todd at all prior to working with him there. We may have had a couple of conversations at the draft or at coaching clinics, but nothing in depth. That was my first experience working with him and it was a great experience, right from our first meeting in San Jose prior to going to the World Championship throughout the entire tournament.

"Obviously winning brings groups closer. But even had we not won, it was a real good working experience and I had an appreciation of how prepared he is, how professional he is and I learned a lot."

You have been an assistant for Canada at the World Championship and World Junior Championship. What are the main differences between being an assistant and head coach?

"In these kind of short-term events, obviously the main message comes from the head coach, but the assistants play a tremendous role and get a tremendous amount of responsibility. That's why I enjoy them.

"Everybody I've worked with has made me a better coach and I would sign up for them every year I can. Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett, Todd McLellan. … it's been the best professional development for me."

With all the young talent in the NHL, Team North America could be a dangerous team. Why are there so many talented 23-and-under players in the NHL these days?

"I was just talking about that the other night. We recently went on a road swing, where we played against [Detroit Red Wings rookie Dylan] Larkin one night and then saw [Buffalo Sabres forward Jack] Eichel the next night. I couldn't believe how good they were.

"I don't think I've seen a group of guys come into the League and make such an impact like these young guys. I don't know the answer. It may be cyclical or this is one of the times in hockey we have young guys making a big impact."

What are your thoughts on how to use Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, together or on separate lines?

"You'll have to ask Todd about that. We haven't had a conversation yet about it. I have my thoughts, but I've been thinking about some of the young names that will be available, particularly on defense like [Seth] Jones, [Aaron] Ekblad and [Jacob] Trouba and on and on. There will be some great options and an exciting group to coach."

How important is it for Team North America that a goalie like John Gibson or Connor Hellebuyck gets on a roll this season?

"It's a long time between now and then. There could be another guy [to] come up and give us another option. Last year, I never saw so many backup goalies thrive and get teams some important points. I think there is a lot of quality out there, and we just need to find the right people."

How much has the initial outlook of the team changed in first three months of the season with some of the surprising performances?

"I find myself, when we're playing teams, looking at the young players with an eye towards the tournament. With the household names, you don't have to search and find them. This is an exceptional group that we'll have to choose from."

Have there been discussions on ways to bridge the Canada-USA rivalry?

"We'll have to have a nice team dinner beforehand and bury some old rivalries that may exist. I think now with the [draft] combines and All-Star events, these guys get to know each other.

"Hockey players, I find, have a great way of separating the battle on the ice and keep friendships off the ice."

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