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Oilers name four alternate captains for 2015-16 season

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday named forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and defenseman Andrew Ference, alternate captains for the 2015-16 season.

It's the first time the Oilers are starting an NHL season without a designated captain. Ference had been the captain the previous two seasons.

Forward Matt Hendricks will be an alternate captain in place of Eberle, who will miss 4-6 weeks because of a shoulder injury sustained in a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes on Sept. 29.

The Oilers will open the season Thursday at the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; SN360).

"This was just about ongoing discussions from when I got the job, from when [coach] Todd [McLellan] got hired, started in the summer, some initiated by me, some initiated by Todd and some initiated by Andrew," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "We just had a lot of discussions about philosophical ideals for a leadership group for captains and assistants and we decided mutually as a group, Todd, myself and Andrew, that this is the way we're going to go."

Ference, 36, is expected to take a diminished role on the blue line this season; he's expected to be a healthy scratch Thursday against the Blues.

"I've always thought the best leaders, first off, have to be a good person and have to have their life figured out," Ference said. "I think that comes with some maturity and time. The best leaders have that and are one of the best players on the team as well. I've always been that guy that's fought for a spot in this League or on teams and so I never tried to kid myself that I was one of the best players. But I thought that mentoring people on off-ice issues, working hard, presenting the lifestyle choices that can extend your career and make yourself as good as you can be for your team, those issues I feel that I can really help on."

The Oilers have a number of candidates who eventually could take over the captaincy, but according to McLellan, he and Chiarelli need time to get better acquainted with the players.

McLellan and Chiarelli were hired by the Oilers during the summer after successful tenures with the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins, respectively.

"I don't know the room very well yet," McLellan said. "I don't know how we're going to react in certain situations. We've had a couple of minor tests throughout the [preseason]. Losing to Vancouver and responding very well was one of them, as an example. That wasn't just Andrew or the coach standing up and saying we have to be better. That was everyone as a group deciding that. That's what we want. We'll get to know each other as the year goes on. We'll figure it out."

Candidates to succeed Ference as captain include, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Connor McDavid, the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.

McLellan dismissed the notion Edmonton decided not to name a captain in order to give McDavid, 18, an opportunity to grow into the role.

"It doesn't [factor] at all at this point, not one bit," McLellan said. "Connor's got enough pressure on him. He's dealing with so many things in today's game. He's got expectations that he puts on himself. He's got expectations that management and coaches put on him. He's got expectations amongst the team and the city, and then he's got the whole world's eyes on him. That's more than any young player -- maybe [Buffalo Sabres center Jack] Eichel -- other than Connor will have this year. We'll just let him settle in and find his game and worry about himself. He's just got to figure out how to get around Edmonton, never mind running the Oilers."

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