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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Todd McLellan

Oilers coach talks rising expectations, Connor McDavid's development

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan:

McLellan is now trying to manage expectations built around 19-year-old captain Connor McDavid, the talent around him and the opening of a new state-of-the-art arena, Rogers Place.

The Oilers open their new building when they play the Calgary Flames on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports 2). The hope is that it's the start of a strong season that leads to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Oilers haven't been since going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.

For now, McLellan is trying to fuel the optimism in the city which also has a sense of realism. 

"If we're targeting the Stanley Cup that would be great, but I don't know if that's realistic," McLellan said. "If it's the ability to improve and graduate from the level we got to last year to move forward, I think that's realistic and expected. We had a 40-goal differential to the better last year from the year before, but we need to do that again just to get even. We were that far out of it two years ago. We've cut the gap in half, and usually the last half is the toughest to cut. We know we've got a huge task in front of us just to get even and you don't make the playoffs unless you're near even."

McLellan talked more about expectations and the Oilers' upcoming season in a recent phone conversation with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with…Todd McLellan:

Obviously there is excitement in that market with Connor McDavid, the team now, the new arena, but is there still patience in Edmonton, a willingness to let this grow?

"I believe it's mixed. The word 'patience' is not a word that I'm using because we've asked fans to be patient for 10 years, a decade already. Some of the fans are because they understand the youth factor of some of our players, but they've also been coming to the rink for 10 years and want to watch a playoff game eventually. It's a catch-22 right now. It's our job to show improvement. That's what our goal has to be."

Adam Larsson comes in via the trade for Taylor Hall and the trade gets criticized with people asking why the Oilers couldn't get more from the New Jersey Devils. What have you seen from Larsson? What have you liked? How can Adam Larsson impact the Oilers this season?

"I've seen a top pair, which we didn't have last year. I see a top pair in Oscar Klefbom and Larsson. It's like we acquired both because Klefbom was hurt basically all of last year. Larsson comes in as a veteran guy. The criticism comes in the form of he's not flashy, he's not up for the Norris Trophy because he's not up in the rush all the time and scoring 60 or 70 points a year. We knew getting him that wasn't his strength. His ability is to play a lot of minutes, to defend, to make good first passes. When we look at our team, to close that 45-goal gap we need a defenseman like that, especially on the right side. Maybe the flashiness and maybe the offense, the quarterback, comes from a different player later on, but we needed this type of player as well. He's provided that for us throughout the exhibition season."

What more does McDavid still have to learn other than just how to win at this level, which takes some time, obviously? 

"He's got things to work on, things to improve on. He's got to get stronger. I don't want to say he has to get faster, but he has to get stronger and read situations a little bit more. He gets a lot of opportunities and the ability to bear down and finish them, we're pushing him in that way. There are parts of his game that he would tell you he wants to work on, but he is and does have a lot of the pieces in play already. He's just got to polish them up and slowly get better."

Staying on Connor, was there any internal debate before naming him captain, or was it just, 'This is Connor's show and this is a no-brainer?'

"Initially when [general manager] Peter [Chiarelli] and I and the new staff, when we all arrived, we discussed where we might end up leadership-wise. Certainly Connor wasn't prepared at that time last year. We went with three 'As' and we found out a lot about our team, and they found out a lot about us as a management and coaching team. We listened when the players spoke at the end of the season, and at that point it was quite clear that all of them were prepared to have him out in front and leading, and they were all prepared to support him. When the seniority in the locker room is prepared to do that and they're telling you that they're prepared to support him, then you've got a powerful situation. That's how it evolved."

If you look at your depth chart with everyone healthy, how do you see 1-4 at center?

"Well we have two options that sit in front of us if we're assuming that Mark Letestu will play the fourth-line center role, penalty killing and key faceoffs, that type of stuff. We feel comfortable with him there. We can go 1-2-3 with Connor, Nuge [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] and Leon [Draisaitl], or Connor, Leon, Nuge -- however it rolls out. Or, the way [Drake] Caggiula has played, we can play him in the third hole and put Leon on the wing. Leon's pretty comfortable playing both. Some of it will depend on injuries. Some will depend on the opponent. Some will depend on the play of Leon, Caggiula and some others. It's a little bit like [Joe] Pavelski and [Patrick] Marleau. You can be the third-line center, or you can go to the wing and play in the top six and probably play three or four more minutes a night with usually a different skillset around you.

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