Over the past week, we’ve been looking into names that may come up as the Blackhawks begin formally searching for their next head coach. General manager Kyle Davidson has said the organization isn’t in a rush to hire the next coach; they’re building the profile they want first, and then they’ll look for individuals who fit that profile.
However, there are some names out there who could match what Davidson and Co. are looking for when they begin making their list. Thus far, we have discussed three potential candidates:
Now, let’s move back to the assistant coaching ranks and consider Mike Vellucci.
Vellucci spent 13 years as the general manager and head coach of the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL. The Whalers made the playoffs in all 12 of the seasons in which Velluci was the coach for most of the season; he coached the team for only 29 games in 2007-08 after winning a championship the previous season. That championship team’s leading scorer was Evan Brophey, who was the Blackhawks’ third-round pick in 2005.
After a couple years out of coaching Velluci returned as the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. They made the playoffs in his first season and won a championship in 2018-19. That roster included future NHL players Alex Nedeljkovic, Martin Necas, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier.
In total, Velluci spent five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was also the assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for oversaw player development and scouting.
He left the Checkers after two seasons and spent one year as both the head coach and general manager of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate. Eight of Vellucci’s players at WBS saw action with Pittsburgh that season, most notably Anthony Angello, Andrew Agozzino and Sam Lafferty.
Yup, that’s current Blackhawk forward Sam Lafferty. And Velluci was a big promoter of Lafferty during his time with the Penguins organization. If the Blackhawks’ new front office saw enough from Lafferty to give him a two-year extension, they likely identified some of the same traits in his game that made Velluci such a fan years earlier.
After one season with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate he made the jump to the NHL level, serving as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins since 2020.
He won the the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award for AHL Coach of the Year when the Checkers won their championship in 2019, won both the OHL Executive of the Year award and OHL Coach of the Year award in the same season in 2012-13 and was named the OHL Coach of the Year award during the Whalers’ 2006-07 championship season.
In a story discussing the coaching changes made in Pittsburgh in 2020 at The Athletic, Josh Yohe and Rob Rossi wrote the following about Velluci:
“[Velluci] also is a stylistic fit with [Penguins head coach Mike] Sullivan. Vellucci’s teams have prioritized speed and penalty killing — hallmarks of Sullivan’s best teams in Pittsburgh and strengths for the Penguins at their best this past season… [Penguins GM Jim] Rutherford has expressed a desire for the Penguins to have ‘younger legs’ next season. That is hockey-speak for melding younger players into the lineup.”
“Prioritized speed” is something we’ve heard from multiple members of the new Chicago Blackhawks’ front office this summer. And an organization entering a rebuild should be looking for a head coach who can “meld younger players into the lineup.” Sounds like a fit, right?
Here’s more from Rutherford in that piece at The Athletic:
“He’s won championships in the Ontario League and in the American League. He’s coached so many good forwards when they were younger. Tyler Seguin. James Neal. J.T. Miller. Those guys all keep in touch with him to this day, and that tells you something about the person.”
Velluci’s track record as a coach and in front offices at the NHL and AHL levels shows an ability to identify and develop talent, which should be paramount for a new, young front office that’s openly entering a rebuild. He’s a winner, and has been for two decades at three levels.
Earlier this week on their “32 Thoughts” Podcast, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek indicated another Pittsburgh assistant, Todd Reirdan, is on the Blackhawks’ radar. Friedman indicated he has heard Velluci has interviewed with Philadelphia already.