We are currently in the second golden age of Pittsburgh Penguins’ hockey, and they have been one of the luckiest teams in the NHL in terms of draft picks and quirky once in a life time opportunity, such as the post lockout draft lottery that landed Sidney Crosby.
Between the teams in the early 90’s, that were highlighted by Mario Lemieux, and the current era that is headlined by Crosby, compiling the best of the best for the Penguins isn’t difficult, but narrowing the list down to ten is quite the challenge.
So, here goes nothing…
1. Mario Lemieux #66
Simply and easy enough, Le Magnifique saved the franchise more than once and has created the winning atmosphere as not only an owner, but a player. What he means to the Penguins is matched by what he means to the city of Pittsburgh. Originally from Montreal, Quebec, Lemieux was drafted first overall in the 1984 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins and played all his 17 seasons with the Penguins.
There are not enough words to describe what Lemieux has meant to the organization as a whole, as he not only brought championships to Pittsburgh but also captured the hearts of all hockey fans through public battle with cancer treatments, creating Austin’s Playroom’s in Pittsburgh and eventually nationwide after the birth of his youngest son, Austin.
Not to mention he bought the Pittsburgh Penguins in its most direst situation and helped to build the new arena. There are too many off-ice instances that make Lemieux the best, but the numbers also speak for themselves.
2 Stanley Cups as a player/3 as an owner
10 All-Star appearances
Olympic/World Champion with team Canada
3 Hart Trophies
6 Art Ross Trophies
2 Conn Smythe’s as the playoffs most valuable player
Enough said, simply the best.
2. Sidney Crosby #87
Sidney Crosby is a winner. Maybe more than anyone in his generation, all Sidney Crosby does is win. It isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t always have a story book ending, but at the end of the day, it is very hard to win more than Sidney Crosby has. The first overall draft pick in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby has won three Stanley Cups, two Conn-Smythe’s, two Olympic Golds, a World Championship, a World Cup, a World Junior Championship, the list goes on and on.
Crosby also saved the franchise.
The timing of Crosby’s arrival in Pittsburgh couldn’t have played out any better. He was set up to take over the hockey world in Pittsburgh, win championships, be the face of the league and save the franchise. All he had to do was produce, and he did. How it is possible for someone to live up to the expectations that are as lofty as they come is mind-blowing, but Crosby did it. He has played 12 seasons, and if he is lucky should have eight or nine more. If Crosby stopped playing hockey today he would still be the second greatest Penguin of all time, but if anyone has the chance to chase down Mario, it’s Sid.
Yes, Sid is known for winning and leadership, but his individual accomplishments are nothing to scoff at. Here are a few:
782 games played
3. Jaromir Jagr #68
Jagr, over the years, has become one of the most polarizing figures in Pittsburgh sports history simply because no one knows whether they are supposed to love him or hate him. Why he left Pittsburgh, or asked to be traded will never truly be known, but what we do know for sure is the 11 seasons he spent with the Pittsburgh Penguins were electrifying. Jagr and Lemieux, much like Crosby and Malkin, took over their era. The fact that Jagr is still playing hockey at age 45 adds to his lore around the league.
He will always be a Penguins legend, here are a few of his accomplishments:
5-time Art Ross winner
2-time Stanley Cup Champion
Bill Masterson Award winner
1,711 games played
There are many more to be named but to be honest all we need to say is this man is incredible and it is ridiculous that he is still producing and playing the way he is. If he ever retires, I am sure Pittsburgh will welcome him back to raise his banner to the rafters with open arms.
4. Evgeni Malkin #71
The most underrated superstar in the league, Mr. 101, Geno, etc…. call him what you want, but Evgeni Malkin has been one of the most loyal, solid, persistent and dominating figures in Pittsburgh for the past decade. He seems to be okay with being the man standing alongside Sidney Crosby, but do not kid yourself, Malkin has left his statistical mark on the Pittsburgh Penguins as well.
He is the only Russian born player to ever win the Conn-Smythe and has won three Stanley Cups to date. The only thing he is missing is an Olympic Gold Medal, but that won’t matter when asking the Penguins’ faithful what they think of Malkin. If he is the most underrated superstars around, the Pittsburgh Penguins are more than happy to keep him around.
Known for being able to completely dominate hockey games when on his game, he is one of the all-time greats in Penguins’ history.
Note: with just over 832 points, ‘Geno’ is on his way to becoming the 4th ever Penguins’ player to reach 1,000 points.
5. Ron Francis #10
With the “big boys” taken care of, slots 5-10 will be a bit of picking and choosing, but I doubt there will be many who doubt that Ron Francis played 533 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups. He was a part of the first Golden Era of Penguins’ hockey. He was also a part of that 17 game winning streak that still holds the NHL record.
With 613 points with the Penguins and 1,798 points all time (5th all time), he is one of the best of all-time. Francis along with Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings was traded to Pittsburgh in 1991.
Francis was arguably the man who completed the championship formula. A winner of the Selke Trophy, Lady Byng, and King Clancy Trophy, Francis slots in nicely as spot 5.
Francis signed with Carolina in 1998, he played 22 seasons in the NHL and is currently the General Manager of the Hurricanes.
6. Rick Kehoe #17
By far the least known Penguin on this list and a man who will be known as the player that holds spot # 5 in Penguins all-time scoring, Rick Kehoe spent 14 seasons in NHL and only recorded 120 penalty minutes. He scored 767 career points in his 906 games. Kehoe was also the recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy in 1980-81.
He is arguably one of the most consistent players to play the game, scoring 25 goals in the first nine seasons he played with the Pens. He was the first Penguin goal scorer and will always have a nice spot in Penguins’ history.
7. Marc-Andre Fleury #29
Marc-Andre Fleury, the person is in the top 3 on this list, and Fleury the player is in the top ten, so let’s slot him somewhere in the middle. He is and was the Pittsburgh Penguins most loyal goaltender, and maybe the most beloved Penguin of all-time. He cemented his legacy in the 2017 post-season by virtually saving the season with his play.
A fan favorite, the franchise record holder in all but one goaltending category (most wins in a single season), known for being the best teammate in professional sports, (as Jim Rutherford said) Fleury will always be known as Pittsburgh’s goalie and maybe, just maybe, you will see number 29 hang high in PPG Paints arena in the next 10-20 years.
Either way, Fleury is a Pittsburgh folk hero, loyal beyond what anyone could ask of a professional athlete and a very good goalie. Numbers wise, Fleury is a sure lock to reach 400 wins (375 now) and if he can play for 6-7 more years, he has a chance at catching 500 wins. He has also won the Stanley Cup three times.
And how could anyone forget those saves against Ovi, or that game saving save in dying seconds of the ’09 run. There will never be another Flower.
8. Kevin Stevens #25
Back to back 50 goal seasons in 1992 and 1993, Kevin Stevens was a part of the first era of superstardom in Pittsburgh. A true power forward, Stevens is remembered very fondly in Pittsburgh and with a total of 726 points and 1,470 penalty minutes, he truly could do it all.
Known for being vocal and one of, if not the best American born player of his time, Stevens played a huge part in the two Stanley Cups while playing on Lemieux’s line.
He played in three NHL All-Star games in his career. In 2002 he retired as a Penguin. A true force and dominating presence for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Stevens and his personality is one of the best the Penguins I have ever seen.
9. Jean Pronovost #19
Jean Pronovost was Pittsburgh’s first true hockey star. He played for the Penguins for ten seasons and was the first Penguin to ever score 100 points. He scored 40 goals on four separate occasions in his career.
Originally from Quebec, he was the first of many Quebecois to find their way to the Penguins’ organization. Jean Pronovost is on this list because he put the Penguins on the map and was the first player to truly turn heads in a Penguins’ uniform.
Fun Fact: he also had three brothers who played in the NHL.
10. Kris Letang #58
Now, this will draw the most criticism, considering Paul Coffey was a mighty good defenseman to suit up for the Penguins, but when you take into account tenure, Cups and production, I have to say Kris Letang wins out. Now I am not saying Letang is better than Coffey, but I am saying that Letang’s overall presence in Pittsburgh throughout the years has made him one of the top ten.
Three Stanley Cups, a Stanley Cup game winning goal in 2016, and the offensive backbone of the blue line for the last decade, Letang has fit in perfectly with the Penguins. A born leader, and loyal Pittsburgher, as well as a three time NHL All-Star, he has the numbers of a franchise D-man. His health has dampened his production, but when healthy he is one of the most offensively talented in the game.
Of note, he became just the fourth player in NHL history to record a point on all four game winning goals in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Syl Apps, Martin Straka, Paul Coffey, Chris Kunitz, Tom Barrasso
What do you think of my top 10 Pittsburgh Penguins of all-time? Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments section below.
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