Since their NHL inception in 1967, the Pittsburgh Penguins have seen many hockey heroes of past and present don the fabled black and gold. From the rise, to the the ashes of the Igloo, and onward to the PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh has proven itself a hockey city through and through.
Although, there have been dark days in Pittsburgh’s hockey history, the Penguins and their five Stanley Cups have contributed greatly to the undeniable sports legacy of “The City of Champions.”
Part of the Penguins remarkably consistent success is the caliber of players that have called the Steel City home. Though a championship team is undoubtedly created through the sum of its parts, the impact and lasting legacy of some players is impossible to deny. The following five players, through their sensational skill and success, have proven themselves the most important in Penguins hockey history.
From Flower Power to Mullet Mania
#5 Marc-Andre Fleury
An undeniable fan-favorite throughout his 13 seasons with the Penguins (2003 to 2017), goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury or “Flower” as he’s commonly called, helped win three Stanley Cups while calling Pittsburgh home. Fleury’s impressive numbers. especially during the regular season, played a large role in the Penguins mostly consistent success. However, the emergence of Matt Murray as the Penguins starting goaltender in recent years, left Fleury, the winningest goalie in Penguins history (375 wins), exposed during the 2017 expansion draft. Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights as a franchise cornerstone goaltender for the NHL’s newest team.
Although, it was a dark day for fans and players alike when Flower bid the city of Pittsburgh farewell, their spirits have likely been lifted by witnessing the spectacular success that Fleury has already achieved in the desert. His prowess between the pipes has helped lift the Golden Knights to the top of the NHL standings, and Marc-Andre continues to cement his legacy as a future hockey hall of famer and perennial fan-favorite regardless of his team.
#4 Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni “Geno” Malkin has spent his entire career in a Pittsburgh sweater, where he’s become one of the Penguins and the NHL’s most prolific scorers during his 11 seasons in the league. Drafted second overall in 2004, Malkin is the fourth leading scorer in Penguins history, with 884 points, and shows hardly any sign of slowing down.
Geno’s goal scoring ability, especially in the playoffs, has been a pivotal part of the Penguins regular season and Stanley Cup success. Malkin’s impressive NHL resume includes an assortment of awards including the Conn Smythe trophy as the NHL playoffs MVP during Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup triumph, as well as the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in 2012.
#3 Jaromir Jagr
Father time himself. Part man, part myth and part legend, with perhaps the best head of hair the hockey world has ever seen, is the one and only Jaromir Jagr. At 45 years of age, Jagr continues to defy both time and logic as the oldest active player in the NHL. Although, he’s played on a number of teams throughout his nearly three decade tenure in the NHL, Jagr spent the most productive years of his career as a Penguin, where his electrifying offense, and puck protection abilities thrilled hockey fans from coast to coast.
Along with Mario Lemieux, Jagr was a driving force behind the potent Penguins offense of the early 1990’s that saw the Pens capture back to back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. The ageless wonder that is Jaromir Jagr has the third most points Penguin hockey history (1,079), and has the second most points in NHL hockey history (1,921), trailing only Wayne Gretzky. Thanks to his legendary hair and his seemingly supernatural scoring ability, Jagr is an absolute shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, if he ever does decide to retire!
The Final Countdown: From Sid to Super
#2 Sidney Crosby
Coming in at the penultimate position on this little list, is a player who needs no introduction, but we’ll go ahead and give him one anyways just for hits and giggles. (See what I did there?)
Three time Stanley Cup Champion, two time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time Hart Trophy winner, seven-time all-star…okay, I’m just going to go ahead and stop right there, as listing all Sidney Crosby’s awards and accolades would take pages, and I’m a courteous hockey writer that cares about your time.
A generational talent in his own right, that possesses uncanny playmaking ability, along with unparalleled on-ice vision, Sidney Crosby has captained the boys in black and gold to three Stanley Cup Championships during his time in Pittsburgh.
Crosby just reached another major milestone in his incredible career, passing Jaromir Jagr as the second leading Penguin in all time franchise points with 1,082, due in thanks to a three point effort in a 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
It’s simply astonishing what Sid the Kid has already accomplished in his ever-unfolding hockey career, especially when considering he’s still only 30-years old! Only time will tell how the rest of Sid the Kid’s seemingly storybook career unfolds. One thing is certain, though – the name Sidney Crosby will forever be etched on at least three Stanley Cups and in the countless hearts of hockey fans far and wide!
#1 Mario Lemieux
It’s no surprise that Super Mario himself takes home the title of the most important player in Pittsburgh Penguins hockey history. Lemieux spent his entire storied 17-season NHL career with the Penguins, and is the franchise leader in nearly every statistical scoring category. Which includes but is not limited to goals, assists and overall points. Averaging an astonishing 1.88 points per game, it is extremely unlikely that Super Mario’s 1,723 career points with the Penguins will ever be surpassed.
However, Lemieux’s legacy with the Penguins extends far beyond his playing career, as his current ownership of the team and active involvement in management has helped propel Pittsburgh from a franchise on the brink of financial failure in the early 2000’s, into the perennial cup contenders and cash cows that the Penguins are today. In the eyes of most hockey fans, Mario Lemieux’s trails only “The Great One” as the greatest hockey player history has ever seen.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Super Mario’s past Penguin’s glory, combined with his perpetual presence as current team-owner and active philanthropist in Pennsylvania and beyond, make Mario now and forevermore, Penguin number one!
An Everlasting Legacy
From the scoresheets, to the record books, and ultimately to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the lasting legacy and impact of these five Penguins will surely stand the test of time. Each has been of incredible and irreplaceable importance to his respective teams, and has helped define the ever-evolving dynasty that is the Penguins. And in doing so has assured themselves a place in not only Pittsburgh, but hockey history.