NHL.com's "Five Questions With …" features Devils coach John Hynes as he prepares for the start of the 2016 IIHF World Championship beginning this week in Russia:
John Hynes was enjoying watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially some of the players he coached in the American Hockey League who are now playing significant roles for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was nice and relaxing while it lasted. Duty calls this week for Hynes, coach of the United States team that will compete in the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.
The U.S., which took home bronze last year, plays an exhibition game against Finland on Tuesday and is scheduled to play its first official game of the tournament Friday against Canada in St. Petersburg (4:15 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Hynes coached in Russia before, including for the U.S. at the 2008 Under-18 World Championship in Kazan. He got there Saturday to get used to the time and culture change.
"It's definitely an adjustment just from the food and the time change and getting acclimated to the city and the differences," Hynes said during a phone interview before he left the United States. "There are differences between the hotels and being in the cities, things like that that we're all used to from being in North America."
Hynes, though, was looking forward to getting the experience of coaching in a major international tournament in Russia. The games are taking place in St. Petersburgh and Moscow. The semifinals and medal games are all in Moscow on May 21 and 22.
"It's a great hockey nation," Hynes said. "The crowds are usually fantastic. They're very well-run tournaments in Russia. We're treated first class with great arenas, great fan support. We're going to a nation that is a big hockey power and that's always exciting when you go to these world events."
Hynes talked more about coaching the United States at the World Championship, including one particular player who will generate a lot of buzz in Russia and is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Here are Five Questions with…John Hynes:
You have Auston Matthews on this team. How curious are you of him?
"You know what, I'm really looking forward to working with him. I haven't had the opportunity to see him play live obviously because he was with the U.S. program and then in Switzerland. I have seen him in bits and pieces, like in the World Juniors, but I gave Marc Crawford a call and talked to him about him. I've done a lot of research on him but I'm really excited to have an opportunity to work with him and hopefully help him become a better player. Hopefully he can be a big piece of our team over there because that will only help his cause too."
Crawford coached Matthews in Switzerland this season. What did he tell you about him?
"He really liked him. One of the big things that stuck out to me was he said offensively he's very gifted, he's a shooter and he has excellent puck skills, but he has one of those situations with his shot that he can one-time it, change an angle, shoot through screens. He has the ability to score. But the thing that was also interesting is he talked a lot about his maturity for a young guy, his coachability and willingness and drive to get better. He understands he's a very good player, he knows that, especially on the offensive side of it, but he's also willing and understands he knows he has to be better in other areas. That was an encouraging thing to hear."
Looking at the roster, it's relatively young. What is the purpose behind that?
"I think one of the things they're trying to do is get some more younger guys exposed to the international competition at that level. A lot of it too just comes to some of the availability of players, whether it's injuries or contracts and things like that. In talking with Jim Johansson and some of the management staff with USA, they feel it's been a pretty good recipe just as far as motivation to play, bringing some youth and some speed. We have [Nick] Foligno and [Matt] Hendricks, some of those good veteran guys who have been there and that can help steady the ship a bit. We'll count on those guys to be able to provide that leadership. Foligno has been a captain and he's obviously a high character guy. And Hendricks, they got the bronze medal last year and he was a big part of that leadership group of older guys that steadies the ship and helps these guys get along. I think it's nice we have two guys like that, especially with Hendricks coming back with experience too. That will be real beneficial. But a lot of the times the young guys come over and they're real excited to play. The USA management staff feels it's been a good mix and we'll see how we do this year."
Miles Wood, another player on the roster, is a Devils prospect. How important is it for you to get some extra time working with him?
"Oh yeah, for sure. I think Miles is another one of those guys that when you look at his talent level, he's raw but he's big and he has great speed. He's obviously going to be in our organization next year in New Jersey, but that wasn't why we took him for this team. He's a prospect of USA Hockey that we like. He fits that mold of player that we want to take the to the World Championship, but you're right, I'm very excited to get an opportunity to work with him again because he's another one of those guys with all this potential and athletic ability and now let's try to help him translate it into being a pro. He's lean, not a lot of fat on him. His lower body is pretty big but his upper body isn't overly thick, but he's strong as a bull, though."
Had to ask you about the four guys with the Penguins that you coached last year -- Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust and Matt Murray. How do you feel now seeing them in the playoffs considering you played a major role in their development?
"It's actually really fun to be able to watch and see those guys go. I think it's a real credit to them. We tried to have an environment in Wilkes-Barre where it was two things: We wanted to be an extremely competitive things and we wanted to try to get players to become NHL-caliber players. Those guys that you're talking about in Pittsburgh, those are kids that came in with a lot of talent, some pretty big reputations, but you could tell early on that they had a passion to get better. They were very good players. It is gratifying to be able to see them have the amount of success they're having now just because I saw them before they got there, when they didn't have the limelight in the NHL, when they were riding the bus and working hard in practice and making improvements that they individually needed to make. It's really nice to see them have success now."