Portland Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston has emerged as the Penguins top coaching candidate, while AHL coach Todd Nelson is looked at as the Penguins fallback plan along with veteran coach Ron Wilson, Inside Pittsburgh Sports has learned.
After a number of phone conversations in the past couple days, Johnston is traveling to Philadelphia today and will meet with GM Jim Rutherford and Penguins officials in Philadelphia on Wednesday to discuss becoming the Penguins next head coach.
The Penguins, according to team sources, are prepared to offer Johnston the job who is the top candidate on Jim Rutherford’s new short-list.
Last Friday now Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins turned down a 2 year offer with a club option from the Penguins.
Johnston’s uptempo, fast breaking offensive style fits into ownership’s mindset of wanting to remain an offensive first team. Johnston emphasizes his defensemen to have a good first pass and have the ability to activate in the offensive zone.
From a coaching style standpoint, Nelson is a bit different and comes from the Barry Trotz tree, where Nelson is a strong believer in structure and accountability.
Like Johnston he has also been an NHL assistant.
Veteran head coach Ron Wilson is also believed to be still in the mix but is a distant second or third option behind Johnston.