Tonight I had a chance to talk to a player who once played for Todd McLellan, to find out what to expect if the Thrashers hire the current Detroit Red Wings assistant. Nathan Smith played for McLellan in Swift Current of the WHL from 1998-2000. Smith, currently captain of the AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, has played 17 NHL games. He was quite effusive in his praise.
Me: What kind of guy is McLellan?
Smith: Oh, he's a very intelligent coach, he reads people very well. He presses just the right buttons of certain players. I only had him for two years in Swift Current and he was definitely a big part of my progress as a player. He's a great coach -- nothing but good things to say about him.
Me: What would you say about him as a person? Did you get to know him off the ice?
Smith: As a junior kid you don't get to know coaches that well. From what I remember, he was a very fair coach, obviously very well respected amongst the team and his peers.
Me: What kind of system did you run back then?
Smith: Oh boy (laughs). We played a high-tempo -- I wouldn't say offensive game -- but he stressed to the players to make plays, and like most coaches, play well defensively. So I think pretty standard, but he does a good job of managing personalities.
Me: You also played against teams he coached when you were with Manitoba and he was with Houston. What were his teams like to play against?
Smith: His team in Houston was very good defensively. If I recall correctly, he took a team to the Calder Cup.
Me: Do you think he'd make a good NHL head coach?
Smith: Oh he'd make a very good coach, yeah. It would not surprise me one bit to see him as a head coach next year or a couple years down the road.
(Here's a photo of McLellan with the Stanley Cup)