The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coaching staff will have a new look next season, and the bench will be a bit more crowded.
For the first time since the team’s inception in 1999, the Penguins will have two assistant coaches on staff. On Tuesday the Penguins named Chris Taylor and J.D. Forrest as the new assistant coaches, joining head coach Clark Donatelli. Last year’s associate coach Jay Leach will not return and is expected to take a job on a coaching staff on another AHL team.
“It’s what you see in the NHL and more AHL teams are doing it. With two assistants, one can focus on defense, the other on offense and the head coach oversees the entire bench and can do more with individual instruction,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO Jeff Barrett said. “We want to develop both players and coaches in a setting with an NHL mentality.”
Taylor, 44, has been associated with the Buffalo Sabres organization since 1999. He joined Buffalo’s AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, in 1999-2000 and spent the next seven seasons bouncing between the Amerks and the Sabres. After a three-year stint in Germany, Taylor returned to play two more seasons with Rochester (2009-10, 2010-11) before joining the coaching staff where he served as an assistant for the last three seasons.
In January 2015, Taylor was inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame after spending nine seasons and appearing in 519 games with Rochester.
Forrest spent the past season coaching Red Bull Salzburg’s farm team in Austria. During the 2015-16 season, Forrest’s team went 32-22 in the international Red Bull Hockey Series and went unbeaten (4-0) in its season-ending tournament. Before coaching Salzburg’s farm team, the 35-year-old from Auburn, N.Y. served as an assistant coach for the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2014-15. He won a gold medal with the team at the IIHF U18 World Junior Championship.
His experience with the U.S. program continues a link with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches as John Hynes, Mike Sullivan and Donatelli have all worked with USA Hockey. Sullivan and Hynes are serving as assistant coaches for Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and Donatelli is currently in Europe coaching the U.S. in the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Forrest is proud to carry on the link between USA Hockey and the Penguins and said the experience helped him as a coach.
“There is a lot of talent and high draft picks on those teams, and you learn a lot by working with them and teaching them,” he said. (As an assistant coach for the U.S. program under Don Granato), it really sped up the process for me. Don knew how to communicate with the players and show them. I took a lot of that during my time there and it’s a good tool to have.”
Following four years at Boston College, Forrest played defense for the Albany River Rats and Worcester Sharks in the AHL in 2007-08 and suited up for two ECHL teams that same season. He also played pro hockey in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.
Forrest said his experiences as a player - dealing with injuries to changing teams and playing overseas, is something that will help players relate to him. As a former defenseman he expects to work with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s blueliners in addition to anything else that Donatelli needs.
“I’ve been told I’ll be working a lot with the D. That’s my main focus and we touched on it briefly,” Forrest said. “Whatever they want me to do I’ll help as much as I can. I’m sure Clark has a good plan for us and whatever it is I’ll be behind it 100 percent.”
- Madison Nikkel will take over as video coach. He spent the past four years as Head Manager of Boston College men’s hockey. The Elizabeth, Colo. native was responsible for all pre and in-game video analysis for the Golden Eagles.
- The U.S. squad faces Finland on Aug. 8 in the Czech Republic in the first game of the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.