The Pittsburgh Penguins 2014 training camp will open Thursday when 57 players converge onto CONSOL Energy Center for medical and fitness testing and team meetings.
For the first time in five years the team will be following the lead of a new voice. On Thursday head coach Mike Johnston will address his assembled players for the first time as a group, and it’s something he’s been wanting to do for over 30 years.
“(I’m) getting anxious for camp,” Johnston said. “It seems like it’s been building for awhile and now we’re going to get going on Thursday, so it’s going to be really exciting Thursday morning.”
Johnston, 57, and his coaching staff – featuring Rick Tocchet, Gary Agnew and Mike Bales – will have many roster issues to resolve. How to implement a brand new system? How quickly will the team learn the system? Who will comprise the team’s top-6 forwards? Who will be the backup goaltender?
“I think the No. 1 priority for us is to lay the groundwork of how we want to play, so we’ll start right away with our practices in our first three days and lay the frame work,” Johnston said.
“We can’t overlook that there are several players vying for spots on the team wherever they may be, whether they are on the lines or just making the team. We’ve got to make sure we give them a fair evaluation. So there is always a strong evaluation component, but there is a teaching component, building your team play, building your team identity, to training camp.”
The team will work on two offensive and two defensive components in each day’s practice. The team will also work in situational scrimmages, including special teams on the third day of camp.
Johnston is hoping to use the first couple of weeks and preseason games to tinker around with different looks. He advised not reading too much into the lineup in the early part of training camp.
“As we get into games, there will be mixing and matching and looking into some combinations we talked about before and then also some defense pairs,” he said. “By the end of training camp, you can probably read into a lot to Games 5 and 6, but I wouldn’t worry about Games 1-4 as to who is playing with whom.”
Johnston took a few trips this summer to meet with the team’s core group of players, such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang, among others.
Several players have been skating on their own in recent weeks in Pittsburgh, giving Johnston and the rest of his coaching staff a chance to meet the rest of the team’s players.
“We have a new coaching staff,” Johnston said. “We want to get a chance to connect with as many players as we can before camp gets too hectic, which is going to be Thursday.”
Johnston knows that with a new coaching staff and several new players on the team, it will take some time before everyone starts clicking together.
“I think with the new staff and with the new players, it’s an ongoing process,” he said. “It’s going to take several months for us to have great chemistry as everybody gets to know each other. That’s why I wanted to start the process earlier in the summer and get a chance to meet these guys 1-on-1.”