(Reuters) - The Pittsburgh Penguins named Mike Johnston as their head coach on Wednesday with hopes that the offensive-minded style of play his teams are known for will help his new club rediscover their winning ways.
Johnston, who was coach of Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks since early in the 2008-09 season, replaces Dan Bylsma, who was fired three weeks ago.
“As a career coach, you aspire to get to these positions,” Johnston, 57, said during his introductory news conference. “It’s been my goal, it’s been my dream.”
The move is the latest by a Pittsburgh team that fired its general manager Ray Shero last month after another early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs and promised to overhaul the team’s operations in a bid to return to championship form.
Johnston’s coaching style stresses defensemen joining the rush, a focus on shot volume and keeping the tempo of play at a high level, a strategy that would seem to benefit a team with talented players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In his first full season with the Winterhawks, Johnston led the team to the biggest turnaround in franchise history in 2009-10, improving the team by 48 points.
Prior to joining Portland, Johnston was an assistant coach of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2006 and associate coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 2006-08.
“He has terrific knowledge of the game and proven leadership ability,” Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement.
“His coaching style is going to be good for the players we have here with the Penguins - it’s an up-tempo style, but it begins from deep in the defensive zone. We’re very excited to have him.”
Bylsma, a former NHL coach of the year who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009, came under fire after Pittsburgh blew a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2014 playoffs.
The Penguins also said Rick Tocchet, who spent three seasons with the Penguins during his 18-year NHL career and was head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning for two seasons, will be Johnston’s assistant.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by David Goodman/Mark Meadows