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McLellan to coach Team North America at World Cup

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan enjoyed his time with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Championship this past spring, which made accepting the position as coach of Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey an easy decision.

General managers Peter Chiarelli of the Oilers and Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks, named McLellan coach of Team North America on Friday.

The team will consist of players 23 years old or younger. The tournament will be held at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, 2016.

"It's an exciting opportunity, I had such a great experience this past spring in the Czech Republic with the national team, it left such a good taste in my mouth to be around those types of players and have a chance at success, that I'm looking forward to this opportunity," McLellan said Friday. "I think the energy level of the team will be high. They'll probably be an underdog-type team, one that could cause grief for some of the more mature clubs that are there. That's basically where we're at right now. I think that team will have some speed and some skill in the lineup; they will be youthful as far as size and strength, because you haven't fully developed yet at that age. But the young legs and the energy that they will have should make up for that."

McLellan led Canada to the gold medal at the World Championship this past May with a 10-0-0 record. It was Canada's first gold medal at the tournament since 2007. Prior to that, the 48-year-old, Melville, Saskatchewan, native coached the San Jose Sharks for seven seasons, leading the team to six Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.

Under his tenure, San Jose won three division titles and the Presidents' Trophy in 2009, and advanced to the Western Conference Final twice.

Among those who could be part of the Team North American roster are current Oilers centers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 22, and Connor McDavid, 18.

Chiarelli, Bowman and the rest of the management staff, which was also filled out Friday, will be charged with putting the team together.

Adam Graves was named special assistant to the Chiarelli and Bowman; Pat Verbeek and Paul Fenton were named directors of player personnel, and Ryan Jankowski was named director of operations.

"It's great, if I do get the chance to play for that team there will be some familiarity with Todd after being together this year," Nugent-Hopkins said. "For me personally, that makes things a lot easier and there is no having to get to know your coach or getting to know your systems and stuff, you just bounce right into it, so it's awesome."

As one of the premier young players in the NHL, Nugent-Hopkins was excited with the prospect of playing on Team North America when the tournament format was announced.

"I've looked at the possible players, I think it will be a competitive team and you have to go up against Team Canada and all the best countries around the world," Nugent-Hopkins said. "But it'll be a mix of young players in North America and there are a lot of great young hockey players in the NHL and coming up in junior. It'll be a great competitive team for sure, but there is a lot of work to do. We'll be going in as the underdog, but that doesn't mean that we can't win."

Nugent-Hopkins has represented Canada at international events in the past, playing in the World Junior Championship and World Championship tournaments.

Going up against a Canadian team at the World Cup will be a different experience for the No. 1 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft.

"That will definitely be a little strange, I'm always on the other side, I'm not used to playing against the Canada sweater," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Being from Canada, you always root for them and I've had a couple of chances to play for them, so it'll be a little bit different. But once you get out there, you know they're not going to take it easy on us, so you just have to have the mentality that they're just another team."

McDavid won gold with Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship in January. He is also excited at the prospect of playing for his NHL coach at the World Cup of Hockey.

"That's awesome for Todd. It's a great job and I know he's going to do a great job with it," McDavid said. "If I'm lucky enough to be a part of that team, there's no one I'd rather play for than him, so it's pretty cool to have him coach there."

McDavid was the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft and is four games into his NHL career. He does not believe having Chiarelli or McLellan involved with Team North America gives him an inside track on playing for the team at the World Cup.

"I don't think about it like that," McDavid said. "I don't think it really matters who's coaching or who the GM is, you have to earn your spot on that team. It's happened before, the GM has left guys off his team for the Olympic team and things like that. I think it's not uncommon, you have to earn your spot for sure."

McLellan is in his first year as coach of the Oilers and had to weigh the possibility of missing training camp with Edmonton next season before taking the job with Team North America.

Edmonton has not qualified for the playoffs since 2006.

"Absolutely, but I feel having a staff that is familiar with myself, coming from San Jose will be a benefit," McLellan said. "We'll be a year into the program, we should be polished and working towards advancing our game and our program. So I feel good about that. From a selfish standpoint, you hope you miss training camp, because that means that they young team has played very well in that tournament. But if it doesn't have success, I think we can be back for opening day of that training camp as well."

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