Mike Johnston: Getting Back in the Groove
Monday was the first full day when Mike Johnston could once again resume his duties as the coach and general manager of the Portland Winterhawks since the Western Hockey League sanctions at the end of November. Johnston was interviewed at Memorial Coliseum, within minutes after the Hawks returned from their second-place finish in the Memorial Cup.
The focus was on the future of the franchise on the ice:
Q: Talking about next year, you've got virtually all your forwards coming back except Taylor Peters and Ty Rattie, right?
A: All our forwards will definitely be back except Peters and Rattie. I don't think the younger guys are ready to play pro yet. The defense is going to take a hit but, that's our main recruiting thing this summer. We've got to find a couple of defensemen to fill in. And we've got to hope some of our young defense take a step up. And in goal with (Brendan) Burke and (Jarrod) Schamerhorn and we've got a couple of other guys to challenge for that second spot with Burke, we feel our goaltending is fairly solid. So going forward the next two years, we've got a great nucleus here. Even two years out from now, we only lose three forwards from next year's team. That core is going to be very, very good up front.
Q: Do you have a line on some D-men who aren't listed? Do you have something in the works?
A: Yeah, we've talked to some players. It depends on where they are drafted this year. The choice for a player like Seth Jones in coming here was, "Do I go to college or do I go to junior? If I'm going to be drafted high, going to college for four years doesn't make sense because I may turn pro in one or two years. So we do have some of those types of players on our list. If they get drafted high, they may consider coming here. And that's what we have to sell them on. And it will depend on the NHL team that drafts them, whether the NHL team says I'd like you to go to college -- I think you need four years of development or I'd like you to go to junior because we want you to play pro in two years."
Q: In general, what do the NHL teams tell them? Wouldn't they mostly tell them to go to juniors?
A: No, they don't. Everybody's different. If they think the kid is really underdeveloped, maybe a smaller guy, not as big and needs a few more years to develop physically, they will encourage him to go to college. IF they think he's pro ready in two years they'll tell him to come here. And we've got a pretty good situation here where if you're a defenseman, where else would you rather play than with the group of forwards we have? You're going to score, you're going to get great opportunity here. We could lose three top-end defensemen.
Q: Plus, you can play the card, "Look what we've developed here. We've done a pretty job of developing players."
A: Oh yeah. And we play that card for sure. The players here have had an opportunity to play pro. And if you come here you've got a pretty good chance.
Q: What about your 19-year-olds? Which ones are the most likely to be back here as overage players next season?
A: Baker will be back, I would think. He doesn't have a pro contract. I would expect (Ty) Rattie and (Tyler) Wotherspoon, they are both signed to pro contracts. We are banking on those two to be gone. Usually what we do is we bank on a few more to be gone than we may lose so that we don't leave ourselves hanging and we're all of a sudden scrambling in September for a player. But if Baker comes back and that's only one overage player (out of three allowed spots) we have two overage spots we can trade for a player. We've got some work to do for sure and it's a short summer. We've got June, July and two weeks of August to get some things done.
Q: Does it feel good to be back in your job?
A: It does. It feels like a weight is lifted off your shoulders. It's such a great place to work. Such a phenomenal staff. I love coming to work every day. It's just enjoyable.
Q: What's your gut feeling about Travis Green? Back with the team next year or on to bigger and better things?
A: I don't know. Actually, we haven't talked about it. I'll sit down with him this week and talk to him. It depends on his offers. I know if I was him and I wanted to be a head coach in the National Hockey League, I'd want to take the right steps. Staying here for another year is not a bad option. He's had one year as a head coach and four years here as an assistant.
Q: What would the next logical step be for him? The America Hockey League as a head coach?
A: I believe that's the right step for sure. That's what we'll talk about. There may be an opportunity where he could go to the NHL as an assistant. But I would personally recommend to him -- he's got great leadership ability -- to stay the head coach route. And to go to the American League. If he gets an American League head coach offer, we may be talking a new staff. Other than that, I don't think he's going to go to another team in our league and take a head coaching job. He will get an opportunity in the American League.
Q: And what would the plan be for your staff if he leaves?
A: We've got a great staff here. Steve Kariya did a phenomenal job filling in this year. Kyle Gustafson has taken a step up in his responsibilities. We try to develop from within here, whether it's staff, whether it's players. We don't make many trades. We're an organization that builds from within. That's our philosophy. It's what we've done from Day One. I don't think we're going to deter from that.