The Pittsburgh Penguins have named Sergei Gonchar assistant coach, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Sullivan.
Gonchar is the third newcomer to join Sullivan’s coaching staff, joining Mark Recchi, who was added yesterday, and goaltending coach Mike Buckley. The trio joins holdovers Jacques Martin and video coach Andy Saucier.
Between Gonchar and Recchi, the Penguins have added more than 3,000 combined NHL regular-season and playoff games, 2,500 points and eight Stanley Cups to the coaching staff in the past two days.
“Like Mark, Sergei brings a wealth of hockey knowledge to our team,” Sullivan said. “His career is a body of work that speaks for itself. He will naturally transition into a full-time coaching role, building on the experiences and relationships he has already made with our group. He was invaluable during the playoffs, especially in working with our young defensemen.”
Gonchar, 43, had spent the past two seasons working as the Penguins’ defenseman development coach. As Sullivan mentioned, Gonchar played a crucial role in helping the young blueliners on Pittsburgh’s roster survive a rash of injuries late in the season and throughout the playoffs to win a second-straight Stanley Cup.
In his new role, Gonchar will be an eye in the sky during games. He will work closely with Sullivan and Recchi on the power play, and Gonchar will assist Martin with the defensemen.
One of the young defenders that Gonchar has taken under his wing is Justin Schultz. Since joining the Penguins and being tutored by Gonchar and Martin, Schultz has emerged into one of the top offensive defensemen in the league, finishing the regular season ranked among the NHL’s top-10 defensemen in assists (39), points (51) and plus-minus (+27).
During Pittsburgh’s back-to-back championship runs, Gonchar has aided the development of several other young blueliners who were crucial to both titles, including Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot.
As a player, the 6-foot-2, 210 pound native of Chelyabinsk, Russia was one of the highest-scoring blueliners in the game, especially so during his five-year run in Pittsburgh from 2005-10, when Gonchar produced the fifth-most points among NHL defensemen with 259 (54G-205A). Only Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Brian Rafalski had more points during that span.
When Pittsburgh won its third Stanley Cup in 2009, Gonchar was both an alternate captain and the team’s highest-scoring defender with 14 points (3G-11A) in 22 games. One year prior in ’08, Gonchar was a key catalyst for an emerging Penguins club that lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Detroit.
Gonchar enjoyed a stellar 20-year NHL career that saw him record 811 regular-season points (220G-591A), the most among Russian-born blueliners in NHL history. Between 1999-2010, the prime of his career, Gonchar reached 50 points nine times in a 10-season span. Only Lidstrom (8 such seasons) had more than five 50-point seasons in that time frame among defensemen.
Gonchar skated in 1,301 career NHL games with Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Dallas and Montreal. His point total sits in 17th place in NHL history among defensemen, and his games played total ranks 18th. He had 90 points (22G-68A) in 141 playoff games.
What made Gonchar so valuable to his teams was that not only did he produce points, but the frequent leader by example became an all-around defender capable of logging heavy minutes. Throughout the duration of his career, Gonchar skated in 83 percent of his teams’ total games, and according to hockeyreference.com, he logged at least 23 minutes per game 11 times in 14 seasons between his age-24 season in 1998-99 as a Capital and his age-38 season in 2013-14 with Ottawa.
During back-to-back seasons with the Capitals in 2001-02 and ’02-03, Gonchar led all NHL defensemen in goals with 26 and 18, respectively. His 59 points in ’01-02 also paced all D-men. He earned NHL Second-Team All-Star status both years.
He represented his country on numerous occasions internationally, including four Olympic Games. He won a silver medal in the ’98 Games and a bronze in ’02.
Gonchar won a silver medal at the 2010 World Championship and a bronze medal in the ’07 World Championship. He also suited up in the 1996 and 2004 World Cups of Hockey.
Gonchar was originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round (14th overall) in the 1992 NHL Draft. Since the 1967 NHL Expansion, only 13 defensemen who have been selected in the NHL Draft have accumulated more points than Gonchar’s 811. Of those 13 above him, 11 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.