Devils coach John Hynes still carries respect with Penguins
Anytime John Hynes assumes his spot behind the visiting bench at PPG Paints Arena, he can look up and see five Stanley Cup banners.
The two of the most recent vintages might not have been possible without the contributions of the New Jersey Devils’ coach.
Hynes wasn’t a member of the organization when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the NHL’s championship in 2016 and ’17. His name isn’t on the Cup, and he doesn’t have anything tangible such as a ring to illustrate what he offered toward achieving that success.
But Brian Dumoulin does. So does Bryan Rust. And Matt Murray.
Also, don’t forget Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, Oskar Sundqvist and a handful of others who contributed to each title run.
Hynes spent five years as coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the longest tenure of any coach with the American Hockey League affiliate. During that half decade, several of the Penguins key prospects developed under Hynes’ tutelage and graduated to the NHL.
Granted, there were some highly touted prospects such as Derrick Pouliot or Beau Bennett who never realized their potential after an apprenticeship in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but by most accounts, Hynes’ work in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton satisfied management in Pittsburgh.
His former players certainly endorsed his work with them in those formative years.
In 2014-15, a 20-year-old Murray put together one of the greatest individual seasons by an AHL goaltender by breaking a handful of records and winning virtually every individual trophy of note for his position. The next season, he was recalled by the NHL Penguins and won the Stanley Cup.
“That was my first year pro,” Murray said. “He was big at teaching me how to be a pro, learning kind of the ins and outs. … That first year pro is always a big adjustment, a lot different than junior.
“You’re on your own. A lot different than college for guys like (Rust). That’s a real transformative year, I guess you could say. To have a coach like him there to give you that structure and show you the way was awesome.”
Dumoulin, who has become the team’s top defensive defenseman, spent parts of three seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton playing for Hynes and credited him with teaching him the nuances of being a pro after Dumoulin left Boston College.
“I respected him a lot as a coach,” Dumoulin said. “He was really good for me in my development for defense. He took me, (forward) Bobby Farnham and (defenseman) Joe Morrow, we were down in the corners and just do one-on-ones against each other. That really helped me become a better defensive player. He demanded it and demanded hard work. I’m very thankful I had him in the American Hockey League. He definitely made me a better player.”
Forward Bryan Rust, who spent two seasons playing for Hynes in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, agreed.
“It was good,” Rust said. “He did a really good job of keeping guys accountable to the details. I think it helped a lot of development in a lot of guys’ games.”
Hynes’ fastidious approach to the game was evident to his players.
“He held everyone accountable,” Dumoulin said. “We couldn’t let it slip in his system. It was the same system that we were playing up here. It was an easy transition, just mentally, when you don’t have to think about systems. You don’t have to think too much. Just come in and play. That was a big benefit. He made sure we played hockey the right way.”
When the Penguins fired Dan Bylsma as coach in the 2014 offseason, they interviewed Hynes for the position before ultimately settling on Mike Johnston. After the 2014-15 season, Hynes graduated to the NHL when the Devils, and former Penguins general manager Ray Shero, hired him to be their coach.
With only one postseason appearance in his first four seasons, there has been speculation as to Hynes’ job security in the early stages of his fifth season as the Devils struggled to a 7-9-4 record before Friday, sufficient for last place in the Metropolitan Division.
After drafting forward Jack Hughes with the top overall pick in this year’s draft and adding all-star defenseman P.K. Subban via trade, the Devils have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL this season.
Despite those struggles, the players Hynes guided to the NHL still carry high opinions of him.
“Just a real hockey mind,” Murray said. “He’s always thinking about the game. Very passionate about it.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .