EDMONTON -- Todd McLellan will coach against the Edmonton Oilers for the first time since they fired him when the Los Angeles Kings open their season at Rogers Place on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; CITY, SNE, SNO, SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV).
"It's going to be fun," said Oscar Klefbom, one of 13 Oilers who played for McLellan last season. "I like Todd. It's going to be different, and a special feeling. I know [he's] going to be very excited to come back here to get two points. We have to be ready tomorrow because they'll be ready, 100 percent. Todd is a good coach. He has that ability to get the most out of people when he really wants to win the game, and obviously he'd like to win tomorrow night really bad."
The Oilers fired McLellan on Nov. 20, 2018, after Edmonton started 9-10-1, and the Kings hired McLellan to replace Willie Desjardins on April 16. In McLellan's second season with the Oilers (2016-17), he coached them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the only time in the past 13 seasons. Edmonton needed six games in the Western Conference First Round to eliminate the San Jose Sharks, who were coached by McLellan for seven seasons, and lost in seven games to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Second Round.
"It was probably the most fun I ever had in my hockey career," said Klefbom, a defenseman in his seventh NHL season. "And to do it with those guys, you almost become like a family you spend so much time together, night and day. You create that bond when you make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Beating San Jose was a good feeling for [Todd] too, certainly special. And I'm never going to forget that."
Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins set his NHL career high by 13 points with 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) last season under McLellan.
"After his first year here (2015-16), he kind of talked to me about going for it a little more, not to be risking everything all the time, but he gave me the confidence to go a little more, to anticipate the play a little more and push the pace offensively," Nugent-Hopkins said. "That first year, he liked my defensive game, but he thought, and I thought too, that I needed to produce more and help out on the offensive side of things. After that season, we had a good discussion and it gave me more confidence and I feel like it really helped my last two years."
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McLellan was 123-119-24 in four season with the Oilers and was voted a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2016-17. He was the first NHL coach for defenseman Matt Benning, who had two assists in Edmonton's season-opening 3-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
"He gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL, so I'm forever grateful for that," Benning said. "He taught me a lot over that two and a half years, how to be a pro. I only played two [American Hockey League] games and came up here and played, so just the trust he had in me."
The Kings have made the playoffs once in the past three seasons (2017-18) and last season were last in the Pacific Division, 19 points from a playoff berth.
Saturday is the first of four games between the Kings and Oilers this season (at Edmonton on Dec. 6 and at Los Angeles on Nov. 21 and Feb. 23).
"We've got to be ready," Klefbom said. "We want to keep to what we're doing here. We had a good first game, got the two points. We want to get off to a good start here early in the season. We know how important it is."