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Penguins sign assistant coach Martin to 2-year extension

| Friday, July 1, 2016, 4:51 p.m.
Penguins new assitant coach Jacques Martin on the bench during a game with the Capitals Monday, Dec. 14, 2015 at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Penguins new assitant coach Jacques Martin on the bench during a game with the Capitals Monday, Dec. 14, 2015 at Consol Energy Center.

Jacques Martin has held many titles in 30-plus years of coaching in the NHL, but for at least the next two seasons, he will continue to serve as an assistant on Penguins coach Mike Sullivan's staff.

Martin, 63, signed a two-year contract extension after a season in which he shifted from an advisory role with the Penguins to a behind-the-bench position in which he supervised the defensemen and the penalty kill.

His résumé includes head coaching stints with St. Louis (1986-88), Ottawa (1995-2004), Florida (2005-08) and Montreal (2009-12). He also served as general manager of Florida from 2006-08.

Joining the Penguins in August of 2013 seemingly represented a step backward in responsibilities and profile. But Martin made his value more apparent with each season, and general manager Jim Rutherford grew certain that the veteran coach needed an active role on the staff when Mike Sullivan's promotion and Mike Johnston and Gary Agnew's firings occurred in December.

“He really made a difference in the adjustments in games,” Rutherford said. “I was looking for an opportunity to get him closer and get him on the ice more, working more directly with the players. (That) was the right time to do it, when the coaching change was made. It's had a big impact. Jacques Martin is a very good hockey guy. That coaching staff we have now is very, very strong.”

Martin's guidance on big-picture subjects, combined with Sergei Gonchar's insights on the finer points of the position, allowed the Penguins' young and unheralded blue line corps to flourish during the final few months of the regular season and the playoffs. Gonchar, like Martin, will return to the Penguins' staff next season as a defensemen development coach.

How well the Penguins' defensemen skillfully moved the puck and thrived with speed rather than size or brutish force became a fascination for members of the media. But for Martin, what happened this past season and his involvement in that transformation represented the latest in a career-long process of adjustments.

“When you've been around as long as I have, you learn to deal with different things,” Martin said. “I enjoyed what I did before with Mike (Johnston) and Gary (Agnew) and Rick (Tocchet). It wasn't as active from that standpoint, but I was very much involved with the coaches and the planning and the discussion. I wasn't on the ice for practice but was watching the games and coming down between periods and giving some feedback.

“For me to get the opportunity behind the bench and have some specific responsibilities was a new challenge. I'd done it before, but with this organization, it was new and good.”

Inspired by Kessel, Sheary

Tyler Kelleher's hockey roots are hard to miss at this week's Penguins prospect development camp.

He wraps tape around his sticks in the same candy cane fashion preferred by Penguins winger Phil Kessel. A 21-year-old Massachusetts native, Kelleher started doing that shortly after Kessel joined the Boston Bruins in 2006. He said he eventually tried to ease away from the time-consuming tape job, but at this point in his career, no other variation feels as comfortable.

The stick that resembles Kessel's is handled by a skater that closer resembles Conor Sheary, though.

At 5-foot-6 and 161 pounds, Kelleher is the smallest player at the development camp. His small stature failed to stop him from scoring 42 or more points each of the past two seasons with New Hampshire, though.

Kelleher hopes to one day turn his productivity against NCAA competition into a contract opportunity, just as Sheary did with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after a successful career at UMass.

“I know some guys will look me off right away because of my size, but Pittsburgh gave me the opportunity to come here, so hopefully I can show them what I can do,” Kelleher said. “I played against (Sheary) in college, and I remember him. He was definitely UMass' best player at the time.”

Familiar with Fleury's plight

Sean Maguire possessed a better idea than most of what went through Marc-Andre Fleury's head after the Penguins star goaltender suffered a concussion March 31 and watched his team win the Stanley Cup while rolling with rookie Matt Murray as the starter in net.

A similar experience befell Maguire, a fourth-round draft pick of the Penguins in 2012, during Boston University's 2014-15 season.

After appearing in net at least 16 times each of the previous two seasons, Maguire missed the Terriers' 2014-15 campaign with a concussion he suffered in practice. While sidelined, he witnessed BU go 28-8-5 and win the city's annual Beanpot tournament and the Hockey East Conference championship along the way. It lost in the NCAA championship game to Providence at TD Garden, the Bruins' home arena.

“It's something you can't take lightly,” Maguire said of the concussion. “It was pretty bittersweet. … I'm glad that I took the year off to get better, because I could've possibly ended my career instead of missing just one season.

“I'm very fortunate that the Penguins were so helpful during the process. They got me seeing doctors. They helped me through the process and had my back the whole way.

“But like I said, I was happy seeing my team do so well, but at the same time, watching from the stands, it's like watching another guy take your girlfriend on a date.”

With his career at Boston behind him, Maguire's mission is to make a name for himself within the Penguins organization. That could be a task more daunting than overcoming concussion symptoms with several young goaltenders, including Murray, 2013 second-rounder Tristan Jarry and 2016 second-rounder Filip Gustavsson, all vying for the same ultimate prize.

“I'm just going to embrace the game and love the game,” Maguire said. “Wherever I am, I'm going to be playing the game I love, so I'm fortunate to be doing that.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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