They Wore it Once: Penguins Players and Their Unique Numbers

*This was originally published in Aug. 2021
**Original article by Nick Horwat

In the storied history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, 775 different players have played in at least one game, and to play in the NHL you have to have a number on your sweater. Some numbers are more common than others; the No. 23 has 35 names attached to it. Some numbers, however, have only been worn by a single player.

Related: A Brief History of NHL Uniforms

There is a group of numbers that have never been worn in 56 years, however. The sweater numbers 69, 78, 79, 80, 84, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 94, 96, 97, 98, and 99 have never graced the back of a Penguin. Ninety-nine, of course, will never get that opportunity as the NHL retired Wayne Gretzky’s number league-wide in 2000.

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The following numerals were only worn by one player in Penguins history. Some numbers may have been worn for a short time, while others are synonymous with the franchise and its history.

58- Kris Letang

One of if not the best defensemen in franchise history, Kris Letang is also the only player to wear the No. 58 in Pittsburgh. The winner of the 2023 Masterson Trophy is the first to wear the number and could be the last. There have been grumblings that when Letang hangs up his skates, the Penguins will consider retiring his No. 58.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It is hard to argue against it since Letang is the Penguins’ all-time leader games played by a defenseman – the first to play 1,000 with the team – and all-time leader in goals, assists, points by a defenseman, surpassing Paul Coffey, and he’s only 36.

60- Emil Larmi

This one is a bit peculiar. Emil Larmi suited up as a backup goalie for a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 4, 2020. He was not supposed to be called up to be the second goaltender that night, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins starter Casey DeSmith couldn’t find his passport, so Larmi was given the call to travel to Montreal.

He did not have to play but became part of Penguins history as the only player to wear No. 60.

62- Carl Hagelin

The H in the ‘HBK Line’ that was made popular in Pittsburgh during the 2016 Stanley Cup run, Carl Hagelin became a fan favorite shortly after his arrival in 2016. The speedy winger is the only Penguin to wear No. 62, his number of choice. Hagelin had a respectable tenure in Pittsburgh, aside from winning two Stanley Cups, he accumulated 83 points in 195 games. In 48 postseason games in the Steel City, he recorded 21 points.

64 – Mikael Granlund

The most recent player to make this list, Mikael Granlund became the first Penguin to don No. 64 when he joined the team at the 2023 trade deadline. Clearly, former General Manager (GM) Ron Hextall saw something he liked in Granlund, but so far it hasn’t panned out. In his first 21 games with the Penguins, he scored a goal and five points and seemed listless with his new team as it missed the playoffs. He was traded to the San Jose Sharks in the Erik Karlsson deal.

66- Mario Lemieux

That’s right, Mario Lemieux was the first and last player to wear the No. 66 with the Penguins. After being drafted in 1984, Lemieux became the second player in the NHL (after Washington Capitals’ Milan Novy) to wear No. 66, taking Gretzky’s 99 and turning it upside down. Since then, Lemieux and the No. 66 are synonymous. Lemieux is widely regarded as the greatest Penguin of all time, being the all-time leader in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, and countless other offensive stats. The Penguins added to the legend of No. 66 when they built the Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) with 66 suites.

Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
Mario Lemieux dominated his time in the NHL. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Lemieux and the No. 66 are so synonymous that there is real debate if someone else should be allowed to wear it in the NHL.

68- Jaromir Jagr

Another number that goes hand-in-hand with the player, Jaromir Jagr was drafted in 1991 and became one of the best players in the sport, scoring 1,079 of his 1,921 career points with the Penguins.

Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr #68 (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

He was the first player in NHL history to pick the No. 68 and while it has been worn a handful of times since then, it will most likely never be worn in Pittsburgh again. When Jagr finally decides to retire, the Penguins want to honor his legacy and hang the No. 68 from the rafters.

70 – Louis Domingue

Goaltender Louis Domingue became the first Penguin to wear sweater No. 70 during a short stint with the team at the end of the 2021-22 season. Though he bounced around the NHL a bit, arguably his best run was when he went 21-5-0 as a backup for the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning team that tied the then-record 62 wins in a season.

With the Penguins, he made two regular season appearances winning one, losing the other while posting a shimmering .952 save percentage (SV%). In the playoffs, he appeared in the first six games and played the most minutes among the Penguins’ goalies, going 3-3-0 with an .898 SV% as the team bowed out in the first round to the New York Rangers. He played with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL in 2022-23.

74- Jay McKee

A longtime Sabre, Jay McKee wore No. 74 for most of his 802-game career, the last 62 of which were in Pittsburgh. McKee signed with the Penguins as a free agent before the 2009-10 campaign. A defensive defenseman, McKee didn’t appear on the score sheet as a point-getter, but rather as a shot blocker. In his single season with Pittsburgh, he led the team with 136 blocks.

75- Ryan Reaves

Ryan Reaves wore No. 75, just as another Pittsburgh sports legend did. Joe Greene wore No. 75 for the Steelers as part of the “Steel Curtain” that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. On arriving in Pittsburgh, Reaves was aware that the similarities between the two were more than just a number.

Ryan Reaves Penguins
Ryan Reaves #75, former Pittsburgh Penguin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Greene is known as “Mean Joe,” and Reaves would have liked to see “Mean Ryan Reaves” catch on in Pittsburgh. Reaves’ time with the Penguins did not last long, however, as he was traded after 58 games. That was enough time for him to finish second on the team in penalty minutes that season with 84.

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82- Martin Straka

Is Martin Straka the single most underrated Penguin of all time? Most would think so, and 442 points in 560 games help with that argument. No. 82 was Straka’s number of choice, as he wore it during both stints he had in Pittsburgh. He was the first, and still the only player to pick that number as a Penguin.

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Straka’s importance was more than just high point totals, but also his play in the postseason. In 65 playoff games with the Penguins, he posted 46 points, including two overtime goals, one of which against the Capitals in a Game 7.

83- Matthew Nieto

Matthew Nieto joined the Penguins in July 2023 when he signed a two-year contract worth $900,000 per season. Nieto has worn the number 83 since his rookie season with the San Jose Sharks, and will never change it. His younger sister Erin has Down syndrome and autism and has a limited vocabulary. She learned how to say 83 when the number was assigned to her brother and that is how she recognizes him on the ice.

During the 2022-’23 season, Nieto played in 81 games with the Colorado Avalanche and recorded a total of 12 goals and 12 assists. President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Kyle Dubas felt like he would make a great addition to the bottom six and he showed promise early on this season. However, he was injured on Nov. 30 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and has yet to return to action. He underwent right knee surgery and is expected to be out until late February or early March.

85- Petr Klima

Petr Klima was picked as the best NHL player to ever wear No. 85. He wore the number his entire career, which included a nine-game stop in Pittsburgh. Those nine games happened during the 1996-97 season when he recorded a goal and three assists. The Penguins were one of three teams Klima played for that season. He left the NHL after the 1998-99 season. Unfortunately, the speedy, talented Czech passed away on May 4, 2023, at the age of 58.

87- Sidney Crosby

He needs no introduction; he is another Penguin whose number is synonymous with his name. Sidney Crosby is seen as one of the most superstitious athletes in all of sport, let alone hockey. It was fate that he was born on Aug. 7, 1987, which numerically reads 8/7/87.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The importance of the No. 87 to Crosby was emphasized in 2007 when the Penguins signed him to a contract with a cap hit of $8.7 million annually. That contract was extended at the same price in 2012 and lasts until 2025. Much like Lemieux’s 66 suites, when the Consol Energy Center was built, the Penguins included 18,087 seats.

93- Petr Nedved

What do Straka and Petr Nedved have in common? They’ve both scored big goals against the Capitals in overtime during the playoffs, and they were the only ones to wear their number in a Penguins uniform. They’ve also both scored a career total of 717 points and hail from former Czechoslovakia. Okay, the similarities are getting out of hand.

To say Nedved is only known for one goal in a Penguins uniform would be unfair. (from ‘IN FOUR OVERTIMES, THE PENS PROVE MIGHTIER,’ Washington Post, 04/25/1996) Yes, he scored in the fourth overtime against the Capitals in the playoffs in 1996, but he also put up 170 points in 154 games wearing No. 93.

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His first of two seasons with the Penguins turned out to be the best of his career. In 80 games during the 1995-96 season, he put up career-highs in goals (45), assists (54), points (99), and +/- (plus-37). He may not have been in Pittsburgh long, but he left a mark that won’t be forgotten by Penguins’ fans any time soon.

95- Aleksey Morozov

One of only 12 players to ever wear the No. 95, Aleksey Morozov is another criminally underrated all-time Penguins player. From 1997 to 2004, he played in 451 games and put up 219 points. Wearing No. 95 with the Penguins, he became a cult hero as a Devil killer, tallying 25 points in 30 career games against New Jersey.

He only played with the Penguins during his NHL career and spent the rest of his playing career in the KHL. That turned out to be a good move for him as in February 2020 he was named President of the KHL.

Some sweater numbers still need to be written into the Penguins history books, and who knows what kind of legend or short-term player will wear them?