CRANBERRY — Yes, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jon Gruden’s father is a coach.
No, he is not that coach.
His dad is John Gruden, the former NHL defenseman and current Boston Bruins assistant, not Jon Gruden, the quarterbacks guru who resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 after it was discovered that he had sent racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails earlier in his career.
So while the names of those two coaches are homophonic, there obviously is a big difference between them, even if it’s one that occasionally eludes some people.
“(Confusion happens) all the time,” Gruden said after practice No. 3 of the Penguins’ rookie camp Monday. “Especially after his whole scandal happened last year. It’s something we joke about a lot, but no relation.”
While sharing a family tree with football’s Jon Gruden would have an obvious downside, Gruden said there have been nothing but plusses stemming from having a hockey coach for a parent.
“There’s definitely not a bad thing about it,” Gruden said. “He’s given me some pointers. Since I started playing hockey, he’s kind of been my role model.”
Although his dad played defense for Boston, Ottawa and Washington, Gruden said he never was pressured to make working on the blue line the family business before pursuing a career up front, that “he never pushed me one way or the other.”
Gruden, acquired from Ottawa in the Matt Murray trade in 2020, clearly seems to have a pretty good sense of who he is, even if not everyone around him does.
Indeed, the roster for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rookie camp that wraps up Tuesday lists him as a left winger, but he actually played center last season, and at times during 2020-21.
He was there during drills Monday and also worked on faceoffs after the formal portion of the practice had ended, which most centers do on a fairly regular basis.
In addition to adding a second position to his resume, Gruden has added penalty-killing to his repertoire. Last season, he received tutelage from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Kevin Porter, who handled those duties during his playing days.
“That’s something that, hopefully, I can, show at (the regular) camp this year,” Gruden said.
After scoring 30 goals during his lone season with London in the Ontario Hockey League, Gruden has not shown the offensive flair generally expected of guys who fill top-six roles as a pro. He has 16 goals and 25 assists in 107 American Hockey League games.
Although it’s possible that he has some untapped offensive potential, — “(Offense) is something I still think I can contribute to,” he said — Gruden seems likely to work on a third or fourth line, if he makes it to the NHL.
“I’m just a reliable two-way player who can be counted on at any point of the game,” he said. “I’m versatile. You can put me anywhere in the lineup. I’ll make plays, go to the hard areas, be hard-nosed in the dirty areas.”
The training camp that begins Thursday would be a good time to show those traits to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision-makers. Not only because Gruden would like to secure a spot on the major-league roster this fall — a long shot, if only because so many veteran forwards have one-way contracts — but because his entry-level deal is entering its final season.
“You want to put your best foot forward in camp and give them a tough decision to make,” he said. “You want to have a good year, coming into the last year of your contract. It’s definitely something you think about, but you don’t think about too much.”
Same with having a father who’s on the payroll of a rival organization.
“He’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, one day he’ll be coaching against me.”
If so, it definitely won’t be in the NFL.