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Johnston Looking Ahead

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

SUNRISE, Fla. – After his first season as Pittsburgh Penguins head coach ended back in April, Mike Johnston gave his staff a few weeks off before they regrouped to review the year.

“I wanted to give our staff a chance just to digest the season, take a look back on everything we did and the areas that we can improve,” Johnston explained.“When you look back, we had a lot of different things happen to us throughout the season last year so we experienced a lot. We know our team really well right now. We know the players, certainly, and they got to know us a little bit better. Now we’ve got a good framework going into this season."

Johnston and the other coaches then gave management their thoughts on the Pens’ roster, and now it’s up to Jim Rutherford and the rest of his staff to flesh it out heading into the 2015-16 season.

“It’s in their hands as far as what they do (personnel-wise),” Johnston said. “There’s always cap things (associate general manager) Jason Botterill is keeping them informed about and those are decisions they’ll make. But certainly I’ve given my input on the roster as far as what I saw at the end of the season.

“The way Jim is, he’s got a close group with the assistant general managers. He relies on them heavily. We certainly discuss the roster, I’ll give him my opinions on our current roster, where we’re at. He’ll give me some input, but I think generally as a management group they rely on each other quite a bit to make any of those types of decisions.”

- Speaking of Johnston’s staff, the second-year NHL head coach is excited about having Jacques Martin – who has over 25 years of NHL experience as a general manager, head coach and assistant coach with Pittsburgh, Montreal, Florida, Ottawa, Colorado/Quebec, Chicago and St. Louis, and won 613 games and made 12 playoff appearances in 17 seasons as an NHL head coach – on board as special assistant to the head coach.

Martin’s primary role will be to analyze games from the media level and provide instant observations to Johnston and his staff.

“Jacques is a great mentor for me because he’s had so many different experiences in this league, so I’m looking forward to working even closer with him this year,” Johnston said. “And I know he’s excited about it, being back in Pittsburgh full-time.”

- One player Johnston did discuss was 21-year-old defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who will be entering his second season this year, and his summer regimen.

“For young guys like Derrick, who are between 19 and 22, it’s really important what steps they take in the offseason because this year he had a chance without the shoulder injury to really do some good training,” said Johnston, who drafted Pouliot when he was head coach/GM of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks and spent four-plus seasons with him in juniors.

And that training is being done with former Penguin Gary Roberts, who was hired by the organization in March to oversee the philosophy and off-ice training regimen at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Performance Center.

“We’re really excited because he’s up with Gary Roberts, so he’s moved away from Saskatchewan,” Johnston said. “Being with Gary Roberts is a very good thing for Derrick. It’s a commitment he’s made on his own, his own initiative, so we’re excited that he’s taking that step and I think it’s a big one for him next year.”

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