Penguins Hire Mike Johnston – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Hire Mike Johnston

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford announced today that he hired Mike Johnston as the team’s new coach, ending a prolonged three-week search that began when Dan Bylsma was fired on June 6 and included at least one much-publicized swing and miss.

pp0489Rutherford also announced that one-time Pens power forward Rick Tocchet joined the club as an assistant coach. Jacques Martin will remain with the organization in an unspecified role. Goaltending coach Mike Bales and video coordinator Andy Saucier will continue to serve in their present capacities. Long-time assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden were dismissed.

For the 57-year-old Johnston it’s been a long, winding road to an NHL head coaching job. He began coaching at Camrose Lutheran College back in the 1980s and worked his way up to an associate coaching position with Vancouver in 1999. After departing the Pacific Northwest in 2006, the Nova Scotia native served in a similar capacity with Los Angeles for two years.

The following season he assumed the dual role of coach/GM with the moribund Portland Winterhawks. Under Johnston’s stewardship, Portland thrived. In 2009-10 the Winterhawks registered a 48-point improvement. In 2012-13 they captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup (WHL title) and reached the Memorial Cup Finals.

Along the way he earned a reputation as a builder—a quality that should serve him well with a black-and-gold squad that’s primed for a retooling if not an outright reconstruction. He’s also credited with developing high-profile Penguins draft picks Joe Morrow and Derrick Pouliot.

In terms of his preferred style of play, Johnston preaches a puck-possession game eerily similar to that of his predecessor.

“My basic framework of the system is puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace,” he explained. “You want your players to have options in a game, so in every part of the game, from breakout getting out of our zone to offensive zone entries, we want to give our players as many options as possible. We want them to use those options and we want to pick the right options.”

Hopefully, Johnston’s philosophy will be a good fit for the offensive-minded Penguins, who still possess an elite core of superstars in Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang.

He’ll need to improve the team’s battle level, character, and defensive play as well.

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  1. June 26, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I like the choice. He plays a fast style of hockey, it would have sucked if they had brought in a trap guy, & as a plus Johnston like Crosby is from Nova Scotia.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      June 26, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      While I don’t profess to be familiar with Johnston, he just may turn out to be an excellent hire.

      What I really like about him is his experience. He’s literally coached at every level, and in all different types of situations (international, etc.). He’s coached big name players…and big egos. My guess is there really isn’t a whole lot he hasn’t seen or had to deal with over the course of his career.

      That contrasts sharply with Dan Bylsma, who had a little over half a season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before being fast-tracked to the Pens. I really think winning the Cup so quickly is the worst thing that could’ve happened to Dan, because it kept him from developing as a coach.

      Two things Johnston stressed really got my attention–attacking down the middle and supporting the puck.

      I can’t tell you how many times last season I screamed at the TV for the Pens to employ the center drive. So many good things happen when you do that. You force the defense to react. And you get to the net a heckuva lot quicker than when you carry the puck down the sideboards.

      Ditto for supporting the puck. How many one-and-dones did we witness last season? A TON.

      Of course, saying the right thing is one thing. Being able to implement your plan is a whole ‘nother ball game. But I really like what I’m hearing from Johnston.

      I also really like the Tocchet hire. He seems enthusiastic and hungry (there’s a word that hasn’t been associated with the Pens for a while). And I sure wouldn’t want to be a player who dogs it on the back check or tiptoes around the slot and then has to explain himself to “Toc.”


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