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The Captain Quartet

by Ryan Frankson / Edmonton Oilers

Todd McLellan, Andrew Ference and Peter Chiarelli address the media regarding this year's alternate captains. Photo by OilersTV.
Leduc, AB – General Manager Peter Chiarelli and Head Coach Todd McLellan mutually announced on Wednesday the Oilers will enter the 2015-16 season with four alternate captains. Defenceman and former captain Andrew Ference, as well as forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, will wear the ‘A’ on their jerseys.

With Eberle currently out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury, veteran winger Matt Hendricks will also serve as an alternate captain to start the season.

Chiarelli said he and Ference have been discussing the team’s leadership group since the President/GM was hired this past April. The two have a long history together with the Boston Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. That pre-established rapport allowed for open communication about the Oilers captaincy going forward.

“He was an integral part of the leadership group in Boston,” Chiarelli said following practice at Leduc Rec Centre. “Andrew was a strong voice there, and I expect him to be a strong voice here.”

Together with McLellan, the trio met multiple times during the off-season, discussing leadership philosophies and crafting a structure for the future.

“We decided mutually as a group, Todd, myself and Andrew, that this was the way we’re going to go,” said Chiarelli, noting the importance of team leadership regardless of which players are wearing letters. “You’d be amazed at the influence the guys have with letters and without letters inside the room.”

“My experience with Andy has been exceptional,” McLellan added. “I can see why he’s been an integral part of a championship team. He’s been a tremendous leader here and a great liaison… I don’t see that changing at all as we move forward. (I have a) ton of respect for him. He’s handing the torch off to a group, and I know he’ll be there mentoring them… I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Ference is comfortable and confident in the team’s slightly revamped leadership nucleus.

“Having group ownership and group leadership on a team can be a very powerful thing,” he said, calling his discussions with Chiarelli and McLellan “a pretty straightforward process.”

Ference said he believes captains should be some of the team’s top on-ice performers. The 36-year-old acknowledged he doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, but said his contributions as an alternate captain will focus on mentoring teammates with off-ice habits, work ethic and lifestyle choices to extend their careers.

“Without a doubt, we have some tremendous talent,” Ference said. “There are some guys who are game-changers and are really developing as people as well who are going to be fabulous leaders moving forward.”

Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Photo by Andre Ringuette / Getty Images.

Hall is one of those up-and-coming leaders. The 23-year-old is heading into his sixth NHL season and has accumulated 263 points (106 goals, 157 assists) in 299 career games. Hall was captain of the 2010 Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires. He started wearing an ‘A’ for the Oilers during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and has retained it ever since.

“We’ve always been a team that’s tried to lead by committee, and I think that’s even more important now,” Hall said. “It’s an honour to wear a letter for this team and group of guys, but it’s going to be everyone (leading)… I’m still learning, Nuge is still learning, and same with Jordan. We’ve got some guys that are looking to take bigger steps as far as leadership goes, and that’s exciting.”

Nugent-Hopkins, meanwhile, was one of six Oilers to be given an ‘A’ two seasons ago, but only Hall and Eberle were given that designation in 2014-15. The 22-year-old is entering his fifth NHL season, compiling 188 points (65 goals, 123 assists) in 258 career NHL games thus far. He was the captain of Canada’s World Junior squad in 2013 and an alternate for the Red Deer Rebels WHL squad in 2010-11.

“It’s definitely a nice honour when something like this comes from management and the coaching staff… they’re thinking highly of us as players and people,” said RNH, adding he looks forward to continued mentorship from Ference. “(He) is probably one of the best leaders out there. We’re definitely lucky to have him.”

Looking a bit further into the future, the Oilers do intend to select the franchise’s 15th captain, but that process will take some time.

“We’re a new group… Peter’s new, I’m new and we’ve got 35-40% turnover in players, so we’re figuring a lot out,” McLellan said. “I’m really confident that Andrew can mentor a number of the younger players… pull that group in the right direction, and eventually somebody will evolve.”

The new captain quartet will lead the Oilers into battle on Thursday as they open the 2015-16 season on the road in St. Louis.

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