Pittsburgh Gets Their Guys, Draft Primer

Pittsburgh has finally hired their new head coach in Mike Johnston, formerly of the Portland Winterhawks. The 57 year old Johnston is a first time head coach in the NHL, but ran a successful program in Portland as a GM/Head Coach combination.

Johnston employs a very fast style of play, predicated on puck possession and quick breakouts. While this sounds like a Dan Bylsma system, Johnston says that the stretch pass can’t be used as a major part of a breakout. He emphasizes the use of the middle of the ice for his breakout plans, having defensemen outlet the puck up to the center, then break through the neutral zone with your best player carrying the puck.

In theory, this style should fit the Penguins roster like a glove. They have good puck moving defenders who are more than capable making the first move out of the zone and they have two of the best centers in the game to carry the puck out.

It should also help players such as Kris Letang and Simon Despres, talented defenders who get caught trying to do too much in their own end. By providing a simpler break out style, these defenders will have less risk of turnover in the offensive zone. The lack of stress in this zone should also help them out more in the offensive zone entry.

There is no better example of this than Pittsburgh’s top prospect Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot played for Johnston while in Portland and excelled in that system. Pouliot was the CHL Defenseman of the year, the WHL defenseman of the year, and produced a stat line of 17 goals 53 assists for 70 points in 58 games.

The only downside is that Johnston does not bring the instant respect that a former NHL Coach/Player brings. Pittsburgh thought of that.

Enter former Pittsburgh Penguins Rick Tocchet, who is the Penguins Associate Coach to Mike Johnston. Tocchet was very excited to join the Penguins, apparently accepting the job before it was actually offered to him. Tocchet carries himself very well around talented players and has a commanding presence on the ice.

The combination of the two should help Pittsburgh right the ship.

*Pittsburgh fired assistants Todd Reirden and Tony Granato on Wednesday. Reirden was hired by Washington just hours later.

* John Hynes was ruled out of the running by late last week and is expected to take the first NHL coaching offer outside the organization.

*Jacques Martin will have a role on the coaching staff, but this role has not been revealed quite yet.

Penguins Draft Primer

The Pittsburgh Penguins might have some new names around the office, but their same needs remain. Pittsburgh needs a bigger bodied two-way playing forward in their prospect pool. They have a plethora of top level defensemen and are stacked in the small/speedy forward department.

What they miss is the true power forward and that is what they will be drafting in the first round of the Entry Level NHL draft on Friday. Make no mistake; Pittsburgh has to take a forward in this style. They cannot afford to leave the cupboard bare and trade for these players every year.

The following are my top selections for the Penguins in the first round.

1.      Alex Tuch – When discussing big bodied power forwards with skill and hockey sense it doesn’t get any better than this prospect. He is big at 6’3 218 and plays with a plethora of high end skill sets. He has a powerful shot, a high hockey IQ, is physically imposing, and has yet to even tap into his offensive game. He will need another year or two of development before cracking an NHL roster, but the natural right shot would fill a big need in Pittsburgh’s system.

2.      Adrian Kempe – An agitating role player at the age of 17 in a professional men’s league usually is does not have first round NHL potential, but this kid might be the exception. Kempe is 6’2 and around 190 pounds, but is lean and has a big frame to add on more weight. He is quite strong and not afraid to be physical, playing third line duties in his first professional season. Kempe is the type of player who Pittsburgh could use immediately on the third line with Brandon Sutter or let develop in the minors. The only downside with Kempe is his lack of offensive potential, but everything else he brings to the table is exactly what Pittsburgh needs.

3.      Brendan Lemieux – While many predict the son of Claude to be a late 1st early 2nd round choice, I expect him to fall around 20 to 25. Lemieux is tough, plays a nasty game, and really shines as a character player. At 6’1 210 pounds, Lemieux has the frame to play his agitating style in the NHL, adding strength will come with age and training. Lemieux is not a prolific offensive player at this stage in his career but has a bit of a Matt Cooke edge in his game that would be welcomed back in Pittsburgh

4.      Brendan Perlini – In a similar spot as Tuch, Perlini can fall anywhere from the 10th spot overall to the 22nd spot overall. Perlini is a smart two way player with decent size, speed, and physical ability. Perlini has a great passing skill set and decent finishing touch, but is not as “high end” as some of the other offensive talents in round one. Perlini is still a long shot as many project him to go in the lower teens.

Pittsburgh does not need to select a defenseman or a goaltender in round one that much is certain. I fully expect the Penguins to select one of the three players listed.

The only player that Pittsburgh should select outside of these players is Josh Ho-Sang from the Windsor Spitfires organization. Ho-Sang is only 5’10, but possess superior skills and skating ability. He is considered to be a bit of a head case and needs to mature mentally if he wants to be a great NHL player, but his skill set is as good as any in the draft. While he isn’t the Penguins top choice I would not turn your back Ho-Sang putting on a Penguins jersey tonight at the draft.

Jim Rutherford has expressed the thought that he would trade the first round pick if it would bring back an impact player, but I highly doubt Pittsburgh is in position to once again trade a first round selection.