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Penguins hire 2019 AHL Calder Cup winning coach Mike Vellucci to be head coach in Wilkes-Barre

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Well this got interesting

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, this got interesting. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a new head coach, and it’s the reigning AHL champion coach. From WBSPenguins.com:

Mike Vellucci has been named head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, it was announced today by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton general manager Bill Guerin.

Clark Donatelli resigned from his duties as Penguins head coach on Thursday due to personal reasons. Assistant coaches Jarrod Skalde and J.D. Forrest will remain with the team in their current roles.

Vellucci, 52, has 20 years of coaching experience at the American Hockey League (AHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and North American Hockey League (NAHL) levels. He spent the past two seasons as the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, compiling the league’s best regular-season record (51-17-7-1) in 2018-19 en route to capturing the Calder Cup. He also won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award (AHL Coach of the Year) for Charlotte’s historic season.

A native of Farmington, Michigan, Vellucci spent the previous five seasons (2014-19) as the Carolina Hurricanes assistant general manager and director of hockey operations. Since taking the helm in Charlotte at the start of the 2017-18 campaign, he has compiled a record of 97-43-8-4 in 152 games. He has been instrumental the development of prospects for the Carolina Hurricanes, as 11 different players were recalled from Charlotte in 2018-19 – a season in which the Hurricanes made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

If you’re an astute observer, the ties to Carolina (Karmanos family) should stand out. Before that, Vellucci worked with Plymouth of the OHL and a Compuware squad in Detroit. Both places where Jim Rutherford not so coincidentally happened to break into the managerial ranks as well.

It’s also worth at least half pointing out that Rutherford was recently a bit hesitant about his plans for Mike Sullivan. Sullivan enters the last year of his contract for 2019-20. Then again, at the end of the season Rutherford also said that Sullivan did his finest job in 2018-19 trying to work with a stubborn Pens’ team, so it’s certainly cut both ways.

However, NHL coaches are replaceable. Hired to be fired, as the old saying goes. And Sullivan is currently in a lame duck year, and Pittsburgh traditionally starts slow in seasons. Sullivan has won two Stanley Cups in three and a half years on the job. That can’t be ignored either.

But it’s certainly a high-profile coach now in the ranks of the organization. Rutherford has been nothing but loyal to Sullivan — with good reason. (Now there’s a but). BUT, weird things happen with coaches and even the best coaches get fired.

That’s not to say Vellucci will be getting a promotion or is a shoe-in for the NHL job. Sullivan is still firmly entrenched. But, if nothing else, Vellucci jumps into a chair as the 11th coach of Wilkes-Barre. Seven of the ten previous holders of that job (Michel Therrien, Rick Kehoe, Todd Richards, Dan Bylsma, Todd Reirden, John Hynes, Sullivan) have gone on to be an NHL head coach for an organization in Pittsburgh or not.

At this point that’s looming pretty large, even if the exact context isn’t yet in focus.