After striking out on their first attempt, the Pittsburgh Penguins have quickly found a new coach, dipping into the WHL ranks to do it. They have hired Mike Johnston of the Portland Winterhawks to take over.
Johnston was not on the Penguins' initial candidate list, or at least wasn't reported to be. After admitting the Penguins had lost out on their first attempt to hire a coach -- presumably Willie Desjardins, who signed with Vancouver -- the Penguins re-opened the search and Rutherford said some new candidates would emerge. Johnston appears to be one of those and clearly it was close to love at first sight.
"Mike comes to Pittsburgh with great experience at all levels of hockey," GM Jim Rutherford said. "He has terrific knowledge of the game and proven leadership ability. His coaching style is going to be a good for the players we have here with the Penguins -- it's an up-tempo style, but it begins from deep in the defensive zone. We're very excited to have him."
The Penguins are also bringing aboard Rick Tocchet as one of Johnston's assistants, joining Jacques Martin, who was retained while Tony Granato and Todd Reirden were let go.
Johnston first seemed to emerge as a candidate for NHL jobs this offseason when the Canucks were searching for their next coach. He reportedly interviewed with GM Jim Benning but obviously didn't get the job.
In his time in Portland, the Winterhawks have had a pretty successful run including going to the Memorial Cup two seasons ago on a team led by defenseman Seth Jones. Outside of a scandal involving player gifts in 2012 that resulted in a suspension for Johnston, he's had a lot of success.
He's going to look to bring that to Pittsburgh with him in the form of his up-tempo hockey style. With him it's a little more than just coach-speak, he at least has a six-point system to offensive success (really, check it out). That seems like a system that fits with the Penguins' personnel, doesn't it?
Certainly it's not a bad spot to land for your first NHL (head-coaching) gig. Johnston takes over a team with high expectations and a lot of supreme talent, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They are going through a couple of changes this summer under a new GM but they will remain an Eastern Conference favorite, the question is if Johnston can do more about that than Dan Bylsma could in the last five seasons.
Johnston was an associate coach in Los Angeles and Vancouver prior to going to Portland.