Todd McLellan, entering his first season as Edmonton Oilers coach, isn't in a rush to decide whether to keep veteran defenseman Andrew Ference as captain or go with a younger player who will get more ice time.
"It's virtually impossible for me as an individual to make a call on the leadership group and tactics that are in play here right now because I have not experienced the team as a whole," McLellan said Thursday on CHED-AM 630. "I haven't experienced a lot of the individuals, the way they carry themselves, the way they react in certain situations. Are they verbal leaders? Are they physical leaders? Are they both? How do they react in successful situations? How do they react to failure? How do they interact with their teammates? I can't answer any of those questions as a coach right now."
Ference has been captain each of his two seasons in Edmonton. The 36-year-old averaged 18:52 of ice time in 70 games last season, 10th on the Oilers, but likely will be a third-pair defenseman in 2015-16.
"Andrew Ference is our captain right now and he's done a tremendous job of it," said McLellan, who was coach of the San Jose Sharks the past seven seasons before departing April 20. "He is a quality individual, he stands for everything you need to have as a professional. He's well-conditioned, he's well-prepared, he's got a strong belief system -- so those are pretty good qualities right now in that individual."
Forwards Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall were the Oilers' alternate captains last season. Eberle, 25, Hall, 23, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 22, form Edmonton's young core, which likely will add 18-year-old Connor McDavid, the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, this season.
Ference, who is entering his 16th NHL season, has spoken with McLellan about his role. He believes he will be Oilers captain for a third season, but if he's not, he knows who he would choose.
"I brought it up … I like things out in the open," Ference told the Edmonton Journal on Aug. 24. "I don't like walking on eggshells or awkward moments, player to coach, player to GM. This isn't a vanity project. We should want everybody pulling on the same rope for the Oilers."
Ference didn't share with the newspaper who he would pick as captain if it's not him again.
"It's not like I'm going to give you a list, but I definitely know who I'd pick," he said.
McLellan said he is comfortable with Ference after their meeting but plans to "take it day by day."
"I sat and talked to Andrew about that situation," he said. "I felt that my relationship with him at that time was really strong, and you have to have that as a coach-captain situation."
McLellan and San Jose general manager Doug Wilson stripped Joe Thornton of the Sharks' captaincy before the start of last season, then opted to go with four alternates and no captain. Thornton had been San Jose captain for four seasons.