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Oilers coach McLellan to face Sharks for first time

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan said he owes a lot to the San Jose Sharks.

McLellan, 48, spent seven seasons in San Jose before he was hired by Edmonton this offseason and will coach against his former team for the first time Wednesday when the Oilers host the Sharks (9:30 p.m., ET; CSN-CA, SNOL) at Rexall Place.

"San Jose was a long period for myself and my family and we absolutely loved it, the organization, the ownership, the management," McLellan said Tuesday after practice. "[Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson and his team treated me tremendously well. He gave me an opportunity to enter the league as a young coach, they gave me a tremendous team to work with. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It'll be nice to see [familiar] faces, but when the puck is dropped, it'll be our job to go out and win a game and that's what we'll try and do."

There have been a number of challenges for McLellan in his first season with the Oilers (11-15-2), including inheriting a young team which is in sixth place in the Pacific Division, but they are on a three-game winning streak.

"It's the challenge I thought it would be," McLellan said. "Every day is a battle for us as an organization to get better. We see movement, the needle goes up and then sometimes it goes back and then it goes back up again. We're laying a foundation in place."

McLellan is the Oilers' seventh head coach in the past eight seasons and is looking to guide the Oilers through a rebuild which began with the selection of Taylor Hall first in the 2010 NHL Draft and continued with the selection of Connor McDavid No. 1 in the 2015 draft.

"San Jose was more of a win-now team than what I've inherited here," McLellan said. "They had some tremendous players, some high, high-end players who were, and are, in their prime right now. The pressure in San Jose is different than here. In Edmonton the pressure is to grown and show improvement and eventually win. But the daily review here is a little different than the daily review in San Jose. When I say that, San Jose is a really passionate market that I was proud to be a part of. I don't want to downplay what they have there because they should be proud of what they have."

Through his first 27 games with the Oilers, McLellan has tried to maintain the focus on the process of improving on a daily basis. It hasn't always been easy, but he has the respect of all the players in the dressing room because of his unwavering message.

"He's been awesome. I got an experience with him at the World Championship and I got to see what he was like," Hall said. "For me, it's nice to see a coach come in here that has had a lot of success in other places. There have been a decent amount of losses this year and he hasn't changed his tone and he hasn't changed his personality and that's a very good quality to have."

Earlier this season, McLellan made his expectations of his players clear.

"I think he's a guy that takes pride in holding his top guys accountable, I've certainly felt that and I like it," Hall said. "It sends a message to the rest of the team that everyone is on the same page. He's not afraid to pull you into his office or tell you what he thinks at all. He's very transparent that way and in this age, guys respect that."

McLellan is considered part of the long-term solution for Edmonton, who have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes.

"From Day 1, he's been very detailed, he's a motivator and has high expectations of our group and believes in our group," Oilers forward Matt Hendricks said. "One thing that I've seen over these 30 games or so, is that he has a high level of patience, which I think is something that I think this group really needs. There is not a lot of panic in him behind the bench or in the locker room and he's a patient coach. He understands that our team is working and trying to become the team that he thinks we are. It's been great. Personally, it's been great playing for him."

McLellan began his NHL coaching career as an assistant for Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005. Prior to that, he coached the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliates in Cleveland and Houston.

He was hired by the Sharks (14-12-0) in 2008 and led them to six consecutive playoff appearances and two Western Conference finals. McLellan left San Jose after last season.

"As a coach, you learn something new every day," McLellan said. "The players are good teachers, they're teaching something new every day. Positively and negatively day after day, and you have to take those cues and you have to adjust as you go. I think the game has evolved over time, so what we did in Year 1 in San Jose and what we're doing in Year 1 in Edmonton has varied immensely, because the game is different."

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