The Penguins have been supremely fortunate to offer their fans two of the game’s all-time legends in Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby. But it takes more than a single superstar to win Cups, they need other greats to support them. These players as well as some of the legends in the team’s storied past fill out the THW list of Pittsburgh Penguins best players in team history.
10. Paul Coffey
The ultimate offensive-defenseman, Paul Coffey put up offensive numbers most of the game’s best forwards are unable to reach in the present era. Coffey came from the Edmonton Oilers, a team full of Hall-of-Famers, that dominated the 1980’s. He helped Mario Lemieux change the Penguins from an underachieving franchise into a Stanley Cup contender.
Coffey composed two 100-point seasons as a Penguins player and was a key component capturing the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Coffey is the only other defensemen besides Bobby Orr to average better than a point per game for his career. The best offensive-defenseman in NHL history next to Orr has to make the list.
9. Tom Barrasso
Next to Lemieux, Tom Barrasso was just as important in bringing two Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh. No team can win back-to-back Cups without stellar goaltending. Barrasso could’ve easily won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Penguins won their second Cup against the Chicago Blackhawks. In 1991-92, Barrasso won 11 straight playoff games while sweeping the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals and Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Barrasso holds the Penguins’ record for most wins in a season with 43, and he played when they still had ties at the end of overtime. That same year when he had 43 wins, the Penguins won the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record.
8. Evgeni Malkin
Malkin was the first Russian in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and the only other Penguins player to do so besides Lemieux. In 2009, the year the Penguins won their third Stanley Cup in franchise history, Malkin led the Penguins and playoffs in scoring with 34 points. Malkin has accomplished so much in his young career.
As a Penguins player, Malkin has received every award imaginable. He has won the Art Ross Trophy twice, a Hart Memorial Trophy and Calder Trophy to go along with his Conn Smythe. Arguably, Malkin is a more decorated player than Sidney Crosby. However, he has not shouldered as much responsibility as Crosby on and off the ice as the face of the Penguins.
Malkin has the most flare of any player in the NHL and is another in a long line of gifted players the city of Pittsburgh has been blessed to watch on a nightly basis. If he finishes his career in Pittsburgh, Malkin will surely move his way to the top of the all-time Penguins greats as he continues to mature as a player and a person.
7. Jean Pronovost
Pronovost was one of the most consistent Penguins to ever lace up the skates at The Igloo. From 1973-1978, Pronovost averaged over 40 goals a season, scoring a career-best 52 in 1975-76. He was the first player in franchise history to eclipse the 50-goal plateau and also the first player in franchise history to reach 100 points in a season.
Pronovost is third on the Penguins all-time goal scoring list with 316 goals, and is sixth on the Penguins all-time scoring list with 603 points in 753 games. Additionally, Pronovost holds the record for scoring the fastest goal in Penguins’ history by scoring six seconds into a contest in 1976. He also took the Penguins to the playoffs in five of his 10 seasons as a Penguins’ forward.
6. Rick Kehoe
Kehoe is the highest scorer in franchise history not named Jagr or Lemieux. He gave the same quality of production every single year for the Penguins. Kehoe scored 25 goals or more in his first nine seasons with the Penguins. He played 11 seasons overall. He played six games in his final season and scored 18 goals in his second-to-last season. These were the only two years he failed to surpass the 25-goal mark.
Kehoe tallied 55 goals in 1980-81 and held the mark for most goals scored in a season by a Penguins player. He was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy in that same season. He ended his Penguins career as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer until Lemieux surpassed his mark some years later. Kehoe was one of the first true snipers in Penguins franchise history.
5. Kevin Stevens
Kevin Stevens was the most dominant power-forward to ever play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He only played five full seasons for the Penguins, but those were very productive years that will never be forgotten. Whenever Lemieux missed time due to injuries, Stevens always stepped up and carried the team on his shoulders. Not only did he have two 50-goal seasons with the Penguins, but he also made sure no one messed with his center, Mario Lemieux.
Stevens average nearly 44 goals in his five seasons with the Penguins and racked up 219 goals in that span, all while battling some personal demons. He was the best U.S. born left-winger of his generation, the best left-winger the Penguins have ever seen and the best left-winger Lemieux ever played alongside. If not for a tragic injury in the 1992-93 playoffs, Stevens would more than likely be higher on the list of all-time Penguins greats. He was one of the vocal leaders of the Penguins during their first two Cups and Stevens always backed up what he said.
4. Ron Francis
‘Ronnie Franchise’ played only six-plus seasons with the Penguins but is still the fourth leading scorer in franchise history. He may be the most underrated player to ever play in the NHL. Many people do not know that Francis is also the fourth highest point getter in NHL history with 1,798 points.
Traded to the Penguins in a blockbuster deal at the 1990-91 trade deadline, Francis was a magical playmaker. He provided plenty of leadership and guidance when the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the beginning of the 1990’s. In Game 3 of the 1992 Division Finals, Mario Lemieux broke his wrist from a slash provided by New York Ranger’s forward Adam Graves. The Penguins were down in the series 2-1 to the 1992 Presidents’ Trophy winners going into game 4 without Lemieux.
Down 4-2 in Game 4, Francis put the Penguins on his back recording a hat trick and scoring the game-winner in overtime propelling the Penguins to a six-game series win. This win began an 11-game playoff win-streak which ended in the Pens hoisting their second Stanley Cup. Francis was also an experienced veteran who provided fantastic leadership for the Penguins.
3. Sidney Crosby
‘Sid the Kid’ has accomplished just about everything at the age of 25. Not counting what he has already accomplished as a Penguins player, Crosby has won a World Juniors Championship Gold Medal and Olympic Gold Medal. He is the youngest NHL Captain to ever hoist the Stanley Cup and the only other Captain to do so besides Lemieux in franchise history. He holds the franchise record for most points in a rookie season with 102.
The Penguins drafting Crosby #1 overall in 2005 single-handedly brought the team and their fan base back to life after the Penguins had some of the lowest attendance figures in the league. He is already the fifth highest point scorer in franchise history having never played a full season for the Penguins. By the end of the 2012-13 season, Crosby should be the third leading scorer in franchise history.
Crosby — like Malkin, Jagr and Lemieux — has a Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy on his mantle. Crosby has the potential to challenge Jagr as the second best Penguins player ever if he plays his entire career in Pittsburgh.
2. Jaromir Jagr
Jagr may not be a fan favorite in the city of Pittsburgh, but he was an unbelievable talent. There is no question that he was the best player to ever throw on a black and gold sweater aside from Lemieux. After scoring 27 goals in his rookie season in which the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, Jagr never scored less than 30 goals in a season with the Penguins. One would think that Lemieux owns every scoring record to be had by a Penguins player. Jagr actually scored the most game-winning goals by any Penguins goal-scorer in franchise history with 78. This is four more GW goals than Lemieux scored in his career for the Penguins.
Jags was known for his timely goal scoring right from the get-go of his career. At the age of 18, he cashed in on some huge overtime goals in the playoffs while the Penguins were on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups. Jagr scored some of the most memorable goals in Penguins franchise history as well. In Game 1 of the 1991-92 Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, Jagr scored an unbelievable goal when he dangled all five Blackhawks and slid a backhand under Ed Belfour. This goal helped the Penguins overcome a 4-1 third period deficit and the Penguins ended up stealing Game 1, 5-4.
When Lemieux retired for the first time, Jagr’s play in the mid to late 90’s would be as comparable to Lemieux’s as any player from that time period would be able to mimic. Jagr is eighth all-time in NHL scoring [now second behind only Gretzky] and the highest scoring player from the “clutching and grabbing” era. He not only is the second best player to ever play for the Penguins’ franchise, but he is one of the greatest hockey players to ever lace up the skates.
1. Mario Lemieux
‘Le Magnifique’ is the greatest player to put on a Penguins sweater and the greatest player to ever play in the NHL. Before his second stint in the NHL, he had the highest points per game average in the history of the league. Mario is at the top of every individual scoring statistic in Penguins franchise history. Lemieux tallied 690 goals, 1,033 assists and totaled 1,723 points in 915 games. He also didn’t have the luxury of playing alongside a team of Hall-of-Famers for a decade as Wayne Gretzky did with the Edmonton Oilers.
Lemieux transformed the Penguins organization into what it has become today. The Penguins were the laughing stock of the league in 1984 when Lemieux was drafted and he made the organization relevant again. He is also the sole cause for digging the franchise out of financial misfortune and making the franchise one of the top in the game today.
The game of hockey at an amateur level has thrived in the surrounding communities of Pittsburgh due to Lemieux’s influence. He has done just as much on the ice as he has done off it for the Pittsburgh Penguins. No sports figure in the history of sports has been more important to a single organization as Lemieux has been to the Penguins.
With everything Lemieux has accomplished, he is one of the most humble human beings anyone will ever meet. Lemieux will never ignore any individual who crosses in his path and always goes out of his way to acknowledge someone knowing what he means to the city of Pittsburgh and the fans that he has around the world. There will never be another player or person like Mario Lemieux. No one will ever top him on the list of greatest Penguins. We should all be thankful for those of us who were fortunate enough to witness the magical play of Mario Lemieux.
– – Written by former THW contributor Justin Glock and originally published Aug. 27, 2012.