New Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden didn’t have a long tenure as the head coach of the Washington Capitals. His time behind the Washington bench lasted only two seasons, but the Penguins immediately pounced on the newly available coach to fill one of their assistant coaching vacancies.
The Penguins new assistant coaches and head coach Mike Sullivan spoke via conference call on Wednesday after the Penguins named Reirden and WBS coach and GM Mike Vellucci as Sullivan’s new helpers.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Reirden said after he admitted the Penguins called Washington immediately.
Vellucci will handle the forwards and the penalty kill. Reirden will take the defenseman and the power play.
“After the decision was made in WSH, it was right after that permission was asked by (Pittsburgh) and eventually granted, and now here we are today.”
Reirden was the Penguins assistant coach for four seasons under former boss Dan Bylsma. Before that, Reirden was the WBS Penguins coach for one season, so he knows that way to PPG Paints Arena and is familiar with the Penguins now established core.
In his first tenure, Reirden ran the Penguins power play. Defenseman Kris Letang was also a big part of that.
Letang has been a fixture of the top of the Penguins’ first power-play unit ever since, with only occasional interruptions in the last couple of seasons by Justin Schultz. However, Schultz will not be back with the Penguins next season, so Letang will again command the point.
“That’s what made this situation so unique, my connections with the players and some of the staff. I just love Pittsburgh and what it’s all about. Working with Kris is something I’m looking forward to.”
New Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Mike Vellucci is consistently positive and upbeat. He’s talked with PHN several times this season about several topics, including the progression of top prospect Pierre-Oliver Joseph.
His enthusiasm for his job and the coming job were contagious.
“It is awesome. They are the best players in the world. That is what you strive for; to be the best in your profession. I am not going to take it for granted,” Vellucci said. “I want to be the best forward and penalty kill coach in the NHL.”
This is the 56-year-old Vellucci’s first NHL job. He was the head coach and GM of the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and coached for three seasons in the AHL, including one with the WBS Penguins and two in Charlotte where he won a Calder Trophy.
“(Coaching in the NHL) is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I was never in a rush to do it. Everything was right, Mike was right, Todd was right,” he said.
After several conversations with PHN, I’m comfortable saying there is a hint of Badger Bob Johnson in Mike Vellucci. Now, we’ll get to see about his Xs and Os prowess at the highest level.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins struggle this season, Sullivan likely has his successor standing next to him. Then Carolina GM, now Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, hired Mike Vellucci to be his assistant GM in 2014 before Vellucci eventually coached the Carolina Hurricanes AHL team in Charlotte.
Sullivan admitted the Penguins are unlikely to replace the departed Sergei Conchar with a third assistant coach. Still, he welcomed Reirden and Reirden’s ability to push and to challenge the staff with new ideas.
“I’m very much looking forward to working with Todd and building a relationship with him,” Sullivan said. “I think he is going to make me a better coach and challenge me with some of his insights and ideas. I am looking forward to that experience.”
Sullivan also addressed the Penguins acquisition of winger Kasperi Kapanen last week.
“I think stylistically, I think he’ll fit in really well with our guys. He brings a ton of speed. He’s a real competitive player,” Sullivan said. “He has some finishing ability. He’s a good penalty killer. He’s a right-handed shot, which we don’t have a lot of.”
Kapanen is expected to be in the Penguins top-six, though the Penguins also value versatility, so we could see continued mixing and matching of lines. And we could see different pairs than this season when Jake Guentzel was reunited with Sidney Crosby on the top line, and Bryan Rust largely remained with Evgeni Malkin on the second line.
“(Kapanen) is a guy that could fit in and really help us be a better team. As far as where we could play him, I would foresee him playing in the top six. When we can surround Sid and Geno with some speed and some finish, that helps those guys.”