The Pittsburgh Penguins are having a very productive offseason. Not only have they re-signed important players and added several new ones, but they have also made some big moves on the management side of things. Former assistant coach Todd Reirden was promoted to associate coach and given a two-year contract extension, while head coach Mike Sullivan signed a three-year contract extension, and assistant coach Mike Vellucci signed a two-year extension. Vellucci’s new contract came as a bit of a surprise, as he spent much of the offseason interviewing with other teams for a head coaching position. However, the Penguins are lucky that he will still be behind their bench for the 2022-23 season.
Vellucci has spent the last two seasons as the Penguins’ assistant coach. He runs the penalty kill, which finished third in the NHL last season, and manages the team’s forwards. He joined the Penguins in the 2019-20 season as the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Before he came to Pittsburgh, he served as the assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-2019, where he was closely involved with player development and scouting.
Vellucci has quite the resume, and several teams took notice during the offseason. He had interviews with the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers for their head coaching positions. In the end, he remained in Pittsburgh; however, depending on what the market for head coaches looks like after next season, he may not finish out his two-year contract with the Penguins.
Will Vellucci Make Changes to the Penalty Kill?
The Penguins’ penalty kill had an 84.4 percent success rate last season, and for most of the year, it was one of the best in the league. However, towards the end of the season, something changed, and it ended up being the team’s Achilles heel in Round 1 of the playoffs. So, the big question is, will Vellucci change it up in 2022-23?
Against the New York Rangers in Round 1, the penalty kill lacked aggression and urgency. Adding some different players to this unit may be exactly what it needs. A player who may bring some life to it is Kasperi Kapanen. The Penguins re-signed him to a two-year extension on July 21, worth an average annual value of $3.2 million. This was probably the most controversial move made by the organization this offseason.
Kapanen played 79 games last season and scored 11 goals and 32 points. No one expected to see him in a Penguins jersey again; however, trying him out on the penalty kill might be exactly what the team had in mind when they re-signed him.
Before joining the Penguins, Kapanen spent five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he excelled as a defensive forward and scored five shorthanded goals, which matched forward Teddy Blueger’s career total. He not only has the speed and quick release to be a huge threat on the penalty kill, but at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, he is also a good forechecker. Pittsburgh would not have re-signed him without a plan in mind, and it is likely he will be getting a lot more penalty kill minutes in 2022-23.
Vellucci has done almost everything in coaching that there is to do, except take that final step into a head coaching role. It seemed like he would do exactly that this season with several teams interested in his services. If he can restore the penalty kill to what it was at the beginning of last season, it is likely he may not even fulfill his contract. He will, however, be behind the Penguins’ bench in 2022-23 and will be instrumental in helping them try for another championship.