Starting last March for about two months, Jack Maclellan spent time at the pool and attended cookouts with the likes of Nashville Predators regulars Hal Gill and Roman Josi.
It was not the kind of extended vacation it might sound like. Instead, it was about as unique of an experience as an NHL prospect can have without actually playing.
A graduate of Brown University, Maclellan was sort of like an intern -- he was a part of the team, but he didn't have much of a chance of ever stepping on the ice during a game in the regular season or in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
's 15 goals and 15 assists in 30 games last season for the Bears would seem to indicate the two-way approach the Preds prefer. (Photo: John Russell/NHLI)
The Predators signed the forward, a Calgary native, after his collegiate career ended. Through a contractual agreement, the organization agreed to keep him with its NHL team -- in part to help burn a year of his pro contract, as he already stood less than three months shy of his 24th birthday when he signed.
"I didn't look at it like I had made it or had already been in the NHL," Maclellan said during the Predators' prospect camp in June. "It was a real good experience that I was really lucky to get. … If anything, it's just given me more hunger to get there."
Among the unique benefits of Maclellan's continuing education as a hockey player last spring was getting to know Gill, the veteran defenseman the Predators acquired in February from Montreal. Having small children in school, Gill kept his family in Montreal and stayed at a hotel in Nashville.
Incidentally, it happened to be the same hotel where the Predators house all of their short-term call-ups, and in this case that meant Maclellan. Despite the age difference, Maclellan and other young Predators struck up a friendship with the amiable Gill, who showed his sense of humor at times by tweaking Maclellan and others via Twitter (Gill posted a photo of Josi, a Switzerland native, at the pool, mocking Josi's lack of a tan with the hashtag #whiteasanalp).
Despite the vast age in difference between Maclellan and Gill, then 37, they had at least one thing in common: Each attended college in Providence, R.I. -- even if almost two decades separated their respective college years -- as Gill went to Providence College, his last season there coming in 1996-97.
"We had an inside joke calling him, 'Dad,'" Maclellan said of himself, Josi, then 21, and third goalie Chet Pickard, 22. "He's definitely a big kid stuck in a 37-year-old's body, I think."
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For two months, Maclellan participated in Predators practices and morning skates, giving him an excellent idea of how the organization works, which he hopes will enhance his chances of making the team. Predators assistant general manager Paul Fenton, who also doubles as the GM of the organization's American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, said Maclellan impressed coaches and teammates alike during that period.
"His work ethic is contagious," Fenton said. "He was down here for two months when he got out of school and got to practice with us -- that's a tough situation when you know you're probably not going to play any games, but every day he came and plugged it in and our coaches just talked to me about, 'This kid is just a great kid and he comes and he works and he does the extra and he's willing to really pay the price to be a player.'
"You have to give him a lot of credit to mesh with everybody and make friends at that point in the season and just not be able to miss a beat."
Maclellan said he wants to make the best impression he can, even if that means playing all season with Milwaukee, where he was assigned Sept. 14. The Admirals start camp Sept. 30.
"If I'm in Milwaukee, I'm going to work as hard as I can to do well there and just keep making a good impression," he said.
If the Predators do one thing well as a franchise, it's identifying players who fit their style. Maclellan's 15 goals and 15 assists in 30 games last season for the Bears would seem to indicate the two-way approach they prefer. He finished a team-best plus-6 rating, one of three players to finish on the plus side for the Bears, who went 9-18-5.
Maclellan's game seems similar to other versatile young players the Predators have used up and down the lineup, including Nick Spaling and Craig Smith, both of whom can play center and wing, and Gabriel Bourque (though he primarily is a wing).
Fenton said Maclellan first and foremost needs to get acclimated to professional hockey.
"I think with him, he can play anywhere in your lineup," Fenton said. "He's a kid that if you put him into a scoring, top-six role, he'll be able to contribute and make plays. If he's asked to be responsible and still contribute on your third line, he can do it. If he's asked to check, he can do it.
"He's very coachable, so whatever you ask him to work on, whether it's making sure he's responsible on the boards in the defensive zone, winning faceoffs or taking offensive risks, he's willing to do it."
At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Maclellan said getting stronger would help him make the jump to the NHL, especially at his size. There are other aspects he believes he can improve on.
"I work on my shot, my skills, my skating," he said. "I just try and get better all-round as much as I can. … I just think it's about getting an opportunity and making the most of it. I think that's how everyone gets into the League. If I'm going to do it, it's going to be no different for me. It's just going to be about getting a chance and doing something with it."
Maclellan was invited to the Predators' prospect camp in Nashville following his junior year at Brown and the organization was so impressed that it offered him a contract, but he refused, electing to return to school and finish his degree in economics. While some of his classmates might earn more on Wall Street than he will in Milwaukee, that's OK with him for now.
"I'm hoping not to use it for a while," he said of his degree. "But it's nice to have in my back pocket."