Chances are there aren't many people within the Penguins organization who are more familiar with new head coach Mike Johnston than forward prospect Dominik Uher. And for all the wrong reasons.
During Uher's junior career with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, his season came to an end twice due to Johnston's Portland Winterhawks. In 2009-10, Uher's first season in Spokane, the Chiefs lost to the Winterhawks, 4-3, in the first round of the postseason. The Chiefs made it to the Western Conference final in 2010-11 but once again lost to the Winterhawks, 4-2.
History aside, Uher, a native of the Czech Republic, is eager to prove himself to Johnston in order to earn a job at the NHL level. A fifth-round pick in 2011, Uher (6-foot-1, 199 pounds) completed his second professional season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 2013-14 campaign which saw him set career bests with 68 games and 23 points.
Earlier today, Uher, an attendee in the Penguins' prospect development camp this week, talked about his second professional season, playing on the penalty kill and his impressions of Johnston.
How do you evaluate your second professional season?
"I think the season was pretty good. I learned a lot again. I developed [being used] in certain situations like the penalty kill. I was really happy with the season I had. It can always be better but it can always be worse so I look at it as a good season. I look at it as a step forward."
You played in in 68 games last season. That was up from 53 in 2012-13.
"Yeah. I think I was more consistent so the coach relied on my a little more. I played more games and had better ice time [per game] so I was really happy with how last season went for me."
How important is the penalty kill to your game?
"It’s a big part of my game. It’s probably the biggest I have to focus on the most. I worked a lot with [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Alain Nasreddine] and [head coach John Hynes] on those special situations. You have to have a good stick and good body positioning. I think I developed a lot in penalty killing. There’s still a lot to learn."
You led the team with three short-handed goals last season. How much of a weapon is it for you to be a short-handed scoring threat?
"When you’re on the penalty kill, you usually have five skilled [opponents], they usually want to score goals. Not pay attention to the defensive side. If I get a puck and I see a chance to go, I’m going. That’s good that I scored some goals last year. I hope it keeps going."
Is agitation part of your game?
"A little bit. I want to try to get a little bit bigger over the summer so I can have more muscle for those situations."
How much of it is being physical with an opponent versus chirping or talking to him on the ice?
"There’s always the talk and there’s always some chirps but you have to have something behind those chirps. If it gets to dropping gloves, you’ve got to be ready."
You're only 21. Are you still growing physically?
"Yes. I feel like I’m getting stronger each year. Like you mentioned, I’m 21 so I have a few more years to develop my size, my skills and my strength."
In the playoffs, you primarily played on a line with Bobby Farnham and Adam Payerl. That sounds like a cantankerous, angry, mean line.
"It was our job. We were supposed to be scared to play against. We were put on against [the opponents’] top lines. I think we did a pretty decent job, especially in the first two rounds. We played pretty well I think. Those players helped me a lot throughout the series and throughout the game."
There was a lot of turnover at the NHL level for the Penguins. There appears to be some open spots among the bottom six forwards. Do you identify that as an opening for you?
"Yes, yes. Of course. It’s a new coach and new staff here so you want to impress. It starts today. You want to have a good summer. You want to impress them at the rink. You never know what’s going to happen, right? The coach might give you a chance. Sometimes that’s all you need."
You played for the Spokane and against Johnston quite a bit. What do you recall from those games?
"I played against him for three years. It was always great games. Unfortunately, they always got the better of us in the playoffs. Portland was always good. He’s a great coach. He knows how to coach. I’m really excited to have him on this team."
How would you describe Portland's style of play under Johnston?
"When we played Portland, they’re always deadly offensively. I figure he’s going to fit in great with the offensive power [the Penguins] have. If you see Portland in past years, they’re always successful. They reach the conference finals almost every year and finals too. It’s a successful organization that had a great coach and now he’s here."
What's next for you in becoming an NHL player?
"Like I mentioned before, I really want to become a great penalty killer. If someone gets hurt here [at the NHL level] or if there’s a spot for penalty killing, I want to be out there. I going to do my best to have great details on the penalty kill and of course be stronger and be a physical guy that can bring some energy shift in and shift out."
(Photo: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)