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Capitals assistant Reirden has potential to be a ‘future head coach’ in the NHL

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Todd Reirden’s road to coaching started as a journeyman defenseman playing in the minors for Todd McLellan’s Houston Aeros during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

Injured and at the tail end of his career, Reirden still wanted to make an impact, so McLellan assigned him coaching responsibilities with young players. It clicked.

“At that point, you could tell that he had coaching in his blood and that’s probably something that he wanted to do,” McLellan said.

Reirden went into coaching three years later, taking Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the American Hockey League’s playoffs twice and assisting Dan Bylsma on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ staff. After two more season as an assistant under Barry Trotz with the Washington Capitals, Reirden’s success is measurable in the progress made by Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and other defensemen.

NHL general managers are always looking for coaching’s next big thing, and Reirden has positioned himself to be just that this summer or next.

“He’s got great potential,” said McLellan, now coach of the Edmonton Oilers. “You look at his path from developing player early in his career and then his time in the minors, his stay at the national league level, some of the coaches he’s been around and the organizations he’s been through, his body of work, I think all of those qualities put him in a category that soon people will be talking about him as a future head coach.”

Reirden didn’t have the NHL head-coaching experience the Ottawa Senators or Minnesota Wild wanted when those teams hired Guy Boucher and Bruce Boudreau, respectively. The Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames currently have vacancies, and the 44-year-old coach from suburban Chicago would be an outside-the-box choice like John Hynes was a year ago for the New Jersey Devils.

Like Hynes, Reirden came up through the Penguins’ coaching ranks that also produced Bylsma and Mike Yeo. From Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to Pittsburgh and Washington, Reirden has consciously taken steps to be a better assistant and, eventually, a better NHL head coach.

“My particular path has been a fairly quick one in terms of getting to the National Hockey League as an assistant, and it’s been a lot of learning on the job,” Reirden said. “An important part of learning is being a good listener, especially when you’re in an assistant coaching role and taking information in and for me learning what works and what doesn’t work sometimes and deciding how I want to utilize those positives and negatives I take from the situation in preparation for one day being a head coach in this league.”

One day isn’t far away. Reirden oversaw the fifth-ranked power play in the NHL this season and ran a defense that thrived despite injuries.

Trotz said Reirden deserves all the credit for the growth of young defensemen and called him “a really bright hockey mind.” That’s an opinion shared by many of his colleagues.

“I think he’s one of the best teaching coaches in our game,” said Bylsma, now coach of the Buffalo Sabres. “His ability to relate and teach and give players an opportunity to be better, I think he’s elite at it.”

Reirden’s players credit him for his Xs and Os smarts, communication skills and attention to detail. Letang said he improved a lot under Reirden, Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz called him an “intellect on the power play” and Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik praised him for not dwelling on mistakes because playing the position gave him an understanding of how difficult it is.

“He’s big on habits and really consistent in his approach to how he wants the game played and what he likes to see you do,” Niskanen said. “He’s a constant communicator. He’s really good at that.”

Reirden picked up pieces of his coaching philosophy along the way. He considers McLellan, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, former Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, Bylsma and Richards among his biggest influences.

“For me it will be the importance of the honesty that Joel Quenneville had and the ability of Todd McLellan and Todd Richards to really understand and how to implement a system and how to set players up for success within that system,” said Reirden, who played for Quenneville in St. Louis. “It’s going to be a little bit of a culmination of all different people that I’ve been (around) in this game as a professional now for 20 years.”

Reirden emphasized that he loves working under Trotz in Washington but said he’ll be ready whenever a head-coaching job comes his way.

“It’s ultimately a goal, for certain, just as it was for me as a player to play in the National Hockey League,” Reirden said. “It’s always a goal for me as a coach to get to the pinnacle or the top of your profession.”

 

Caps’ Vrana hoping to earn spot with Ovechkin, Kuznetsov

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It looks like the Washington Capitals are going to give Jakub Vrana the opportunity of a lifetime.

Washington has given the young winger a chance to earn a spot on the right side of the top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.

On Wednesday night, they got to put the chemistry to the test, as Vrana and the Caps played the Canadiens in Montreal.

Vrana finished the game with a power play goal (an innocent shot that went off Canadiens defenseman Brandon Davidson and in the net). Kuznetsov and Ovechkin registered the assists on the goal and the Caps won 4-2.

“We played fast today,” Vrana said, per the Washington Post. “We had some passes today, some chances. It’s always a good sign when you have chances. … You’re going to be confident when you play with guys like this. You’re just going to be confident on the ice with the puck. Just play fast and build some chemistry there.”

The 21-year-old got his first taste of real NHL action last season, but the production simply wasn’t there (three goals and three assists in 21 games). But the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft did put up solid numbers in the AHL, as he had 36 points in 49 games last year and 34 points in 36 games with the Hershey Bears two years ago.

“He gets to space,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He gets on the puck because he moves his legs and his speed is noticeable. Kuzy can get him the puck, and getting down ice, he can put some pressure to create a forecheck, too. He worked hard today, and I think we keep putting him with top players, because we think he’s going to be a top player.”

WATCH LIVE: Canucks vs. Kings from Shanghai, China

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The Vancouver Canucks and L.A. Kings will make history on Thursday.

The two teams will face each other in an exhibition series in China, marking the first time NHL teams will play preseason games in that country. The two-game set gets underway with Thursday’s contest from the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.

Set your alarms, wake up early (especially if you’re on the west coast!), put on a pot of coffee and catch the game on NBCSN (7:30 a.m. ET) or online with the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for today’s game:

NHL hopes to make inroads in China with exhibition games

It was a little on the foggy side for Canucks practice in Shanghai

Canucks-Kings exhibition series in China highlights preseason schedule

NHL preseason games in China are ‘the biggest deal’ for local fans

NHL looks to China to ‘expand the sport’

 

Video: Flames goalie makes incredible behind-the-back glove save

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A save of the year candidate in September? It’s possible.

Jon Gillies of the Calgary Flames made an incredible stop during Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The camera angle from directly above the net is the best, as it clearly shows how Gillies appeared to bump the puck back toward the goal line, then suddenly reach back with a no-look, behind-the-back glove save to prevent a Canucks goal and stop play.

That is one incredible save.

Drouin shows ‘commitment’ to community with donation to Montreal hospital

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Jonathan Drouin has yet to play a regular season game for his new team, the Montreal Canadiens.

But after getting traded to the Habs in the summer, Drouin has already made a sizable contribution in the community, donating $500,000 over 10 years to the University of Montreal Hospital Centre and planning to help in the fundraising activities to raise an additional $5 million, according to The Canadian Press.

From Sportsnet:

“I think all of that had some impact on his overall decision making,” Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh told Sportsnet. “One day when he’s retired and 50 years old, that hospital [which will begin serving patients for the first time this coming October] will still be here and he’ll have played a role in its development. That means something to him.

“But I think more than anything else he wants to help people. If he can help people—the hospital is going to be the largest hospital in North America and there’s a tremendous need for it in the city—and if he can use the fact that he plays for the Montreal Canadiens to do that, I wish more players felt that kind of responsibility to their communities.”

As noted in the Sportsnet piece above, Drouin is following in the footsteps of Saku Koivu and P.K. Subban, who made generous donations in the community during their time in Montreal.

The Habs acquired Drouin from the Lightning in June, sending prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay. They then signed the 22-year-old forward — who was born in nearby Ste-Agathe, Que. — to a six-year, $33 million contract.

It won’t be long before the pressure falls on Drouin’s on-ice ability, especially playing as a potential No. 1 center in Montreal and essentially being a hometown player for the Habs. But without even playing a meaningful game for his new team, he’s already giving back to an important cause in the city.

“And when you look at that, if you make $6 million and you give $50,000 a year, it’s not a big deal and you get tax receipts,” he said, per the Montreal Gazette. “But it’s a commitment, and being involved in the community and doing something for your community I think it’s something that you have to do.”