Courtesy of Point Park University

Friday Insider: Secret world of Penguins nicknames

Bland nicknames are one of hockey's most enduring traditions.

For decades, countless players simply have had a letter or two tacked onto their surname -- often a "y," which is why Justin Schultz is known as "Schultzy" -- or, as with Brian Dumoulin ("Dumo"), had a few lopped off.

Consider how members of the Penguins' coaching staff and front office were widely known during their playing days: Mike Sullivan ("Sully"), Mark Recchi ("Recchs"), Sergei Gonchar ("Gonch") and Jim Rutherford ("Ruts").

Turns out, though, that when the locker-room doors close, some guys go by nicknames that aren't widely known among outsiders. Nicknames guarded as ferociously as injury information or details of a playoff-series game plan.

"There are some good ones," Jack Johnson said. "We just don't want to tell you guys. ... It just organically happens in the locker room, through team dinners, team events, whatever. Stuff just happens and nicknames start. Usually, we're all giving each other a hard time, but it's all because we like each other."

Some of those nicknames do make it into circulation outside team circles. It's pretty widely known, for example, that Brandon Tanev's co-workers call him "Turbo" -- "because he's always going a million miles an hour," Bryan Rust said -- although Sullivan generally refers to him "Tans" when speaking with reporters.

Tanev noted that a former teammate in Winnipeg, Nikolaj Ehlers, had a pretty good one, too. The Jets know him as "Fly," Tanev said, because "he's a really light guy who can buzz around the ice pretty quickly."

But while most nicknames seem destined to remain well-kept secrets, one player divulged that Jake Guentzel -- generally referred to by teammates in public settings simply as "Jake" or "Guentz" -- is known inside the locker room as "Shaq." (That, he said, is because Guentzel "scores a lot of slam dunks from around the net" the way former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal did, not because he checks in at around 400 pounds and appears in a lot of commercials.)

As for Johnson, yeah, he apparently has one of those creative nicknames, too. Just not one that he cares to share.

"Stays in the room," he said. "Sorry."


• The Penguins' amateur scouts convened in Florida for meetings this week and, as usual, the top order of business was assessing the talent expected to be available in the draft this June. Jim Rutherford, though, said that's not the only topic of discussion, that the scouts routinely talk about players from previous drafts whose careers have not followed the projected trajectory and who might be worth trying to acquire at some point in the future. "Sometimes, I get tipped off from our amateur staff about somebody we've liked in the past and they're already in the pros and they're not doing as well in their entry-level as we would have thought," Rutherford said. "That starts a process of telling the pros (scouts) to try to follow the player, see what happened in his development. Is this somebody who maybe we should look at acquiring and giving the player a fresh start?" -- Molinari

• It's not unusual for a player who has been traded to have some hard feelings toward his former club, even carry a grudge into games against it. Not so with Colorado defenseman Ian Cole, who spent two full seasons and parts of two others here before being sent to Ottawa in the Derick Brassard trade in 2018. When it was mentioned recently that Rutherford sent him away, Cole was quick to respond that "he's also the guy who traded for me" -- Cole came from St. Louis in 2015 in exchange for Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round draft choice -- and followed up with a full-throated endorsement of how the Penguins operate. "Jimmy has done an amazing job of keeping that team consistently good and consistently competitive when he's in some not-so-advantageous situations," Cole said. "I have all the respect in the world for Jim and a lot of people over there. It was an unbelievable four years for me, or parts of four years. Obviously, I had a ton of success and Pittsburgh is a special place for me, for sure.  It's a place where I have a ton of memories, and it was great. " -- Molinari


• The "raiding" of the Steelers' front office by the Panthers didn't quite live up to the hype, much like the reports the Redskins wanted to steal Mike Tomlin away. While the speculation of who might be lured away by the Panthers centered on Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, that was never happening. Nor was Omar Khan. In the end, it was Steelers vice president of development, Mark Hart, and football administration coordinator Samir Suleiman who wound up being hired by the Panthers. Not that it was a surprise to anyone who regularly reads this outlet. -- Dale Lolley at Rooney Complex

• There is a strong belief within the organization that Colbert will return as GM next season. Remember, Colbert is working on year-to-year contracts, so his contract this year runs out just after the completion of the draft. But the team expects Colbert to return in 2020. -- Lolley

• When Tomlin said at his season-ending press conference a couple of weeks ago that the team's players are Steelers until they aren't, he meant it. Recent trips to the facility have shown a good number of players still hanging around the facility getting workouts in. That includes B.J. Finney, a soon-to-be free agent. You'll recall that Finney cried when the team called him to sign him as an undrafted rookie. And that wasn't just because he was getting a chance to live his dream, but because his entire family are fans of the Steelers. Will that mean he takes a hometown deal to stick around? -- Lolley

• A clarification on the Steelers' draft picks is in order. The fourth-round pick the team received from the Dolphins was, in fact, Miami's original pick -- No. 99 -- not the one the Dolphins received from the Titans. The pick the Dolphins acquired from the Titans was sent to the Texans as part of the deal that returned a pair of first-round picks for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills. That means the Steelers have picks 49, 99, 112, 176 and 207. They also expect to receive a third-round compensatory selection for the loss of running back Le'Veon Bell, which will be in the 93 range. Of course, the compensatory picks also will affect the picks beyond the third round the Steelers have this year. -- Lolley


Nick Mears burst onto the scene in 2019, going from undrafted free agent signing to a strikeout artist, fanning 69 over 46.2 innings across three levels last season. Now he is getting a chance to cement himself as a legitimate prospect by getting a nod as a non-roster invitee this spring training. He told me last month his goal is to make it to the majors in 2020, and if he does that, he could thank the Astros instructors who worked with him in the Arizona Fall League. He has a big leg kick, and since he was crouched during his delivery in 2019, his knee would almost go into his glove during his windup. His hands would have to clear his knee during his delivery, making it difficult for him to repeat his mechanics on his breaking pitch. In the Fall League, he was given the advice to move his glove higher to his chest when he was coming set, giving him better posture and shortening his arm action. "I still have a big leg kick, but I think that my delivery looks a little bit easier instead of a lot of moving parts," he told me. The change has helped him repeat his mechanics better, making his breaking pitch better. It worked in Arizona, as Mears struck out 11 over 8.2 scoreless innings. -- Alex Stumpf

Joel Hanrahan earned his third promotion in as many years when he was named the Indianapolis Indians' pitching coach Thursday, and it is almost certain he is on a path to a major-league coaching or coordinator job in the near future. With this in mind, let's remember he got his start as a coach in Bristol in 2017, and Bristol is one of 42 minor-league teams Major League Baseball and Rob Manfred want to contract at the end of the season. The proposal would be bad not only for players and local communities, but for people like Hanrahan who are looking to break into coaching. Fewer coaching spots makes it tougher for new voices and ideas to get their foot in the door. -- Stumpf

• There have not been many Pirates up for the Hall of Fame in recent years, but that will change for next year's ballot, which will feature Aramis Ramirez and AJ Burnett. Neither is expected to come close to the 75 percent necessary for enshrinement, but Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor does give Ramirez the best chance out of the players who will be eligible for the first time next year. Next year's ballot is going to be weak, so both should get at least some votes. -- Stumpf

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