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World Cup

Team North America not ready to name captains

Coach Todd McLellan says decision won't be made for few days

by Tim Campbell @NHLTim / Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- The flurry of announcements of captains and alternates for teams in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 did not include Team North America.

And it will not for a few more days.

Coach Todd McLellan said Monday after a first practice at Bell Centre that it's simply too early to make those decisions.

"I think that once we get into the tournament, it (the choice for captain) will obviously have been made," said McLellan, coach of the Edmonton Oilers. "But we need a few more days. We met last night at 7 p.m. and the team was finally together. We've spent all of about 12 hours together, 15, 18 hours. So it's hard to give you a timeline or an estimate."

McLellan previously has coached a few Team North America players, including defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sean Couturier and Nathan MacKinnon, in addition to Oilers centers Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

"I see some guys that I've been around personally as a coach being a little more open and willing to talk," McLellan said. "But that's natural. They feel a little more comfortable around me as a coach. But there's the rest of the coaching staff that has relationships with the players too, and we have to value those too."

Video: Reilly, Team North America on WCH 2016 expectations

The leadership question was frequent in the Team North America locker room on Monday. But leadership is not a point of worry inside, Nugent-Hopkins said.

"I think slowly as the tournament goes on, you'll start to see it more," he said. "There are guys in here who are leaders on their team, future leaders on their team. I don't think leadership is something we're going to struggle with. I think guys at junior level have all been through it and know what it means and what it takes to be a good leader. I don't think we're going to have any problems with that."

Ekblad said he was more than confident there's enough leadership on the team.

"Chemistry is only going to get better and better from here," he said. "Not only (players who have been in) international games, but games we play all year. There's a couple of guys in here who, if they weren't on my team, I'd probably want to kill them. That's just the game of hockey. You come together when you're on the same team and everything gets set aside.

"We'll all have a special bond after this, considering we can really make a splash."

Video: McDavid, Team North America preview the WCH 2016

FRESH FAN BASE: McLellan fielded a unique question on Monday: "Where do you think your fan base will come from?"

"We can't worry about how the fans react in the tournament," he said. "We know Canadians are going to cheer for Canada and Americans are going to cheer for their home country. I think we're going to draw from everybody, especially in North America. This might be a situation where the real loyal Canadian fan becomes attached to our team because of our talent level and us being the next generation of the game.

"If you're a pure hockey fan, it doesn't matter what country you're from. You want to watch this team. You want to see who's evolving. We expect to have success, but if doesn't work out that way, the eyes of the world are going to be on these guys.

"And as this tournament evolves, as it does in cycles, eventually they're going back to their teams and they will become the godfathers. Sidney Crosby will be passing the torch to whoever down the road."

MONKEY WRENCH: When Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan withdrew from the World Cup because of injury, it caused McLellan and his staff to reshuffle the forward lines.

"We went right back to the drawing board," McLellan said. "Sean was paired up with (Flames forward) Johnny Gaudreau in our plans. It was natural to go with them as a pair. When he couldn't make it anymore, there were a lot of changes."

WARM-UP FOR MATTHEWS: Center Auston Matthews, the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is the only member of Team North America who hasn't played an NHL game. The World Cup is only going to help him when he makes his debut in the League, Ekblad said.

"I'd consider it almost a luxury," Ekblad said. "He's got a month of high-end hockey to get ready for the NHL season. We, Connor, myself, everybody else in this room, we didn't have that kind of luxury, getting this high speed of hockey, this NHL style of hockey right away."

Among the inquiries Monday about what Matthews faces as he prepares to start his NHL career, McLellan was asked what similarities there might be with McDavid's situation a year ago. McDavid was the No. 1 pick at the 2015 draft.

McLellan said he couldn't speak for the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, but he noted McDavid's personal polish and sharpness with media even before he was a pro and his ability to focus on his game.

The coach said he recalled a game early last season when McDavid let loose and "gave himself permission, where he was less respectful to the League and his teammates in a good way and he played, just went and played, and from there on realized he could do it and be himself.

"I think young players need to give themselves permission at some point to excel."

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