Justin K. Aller - Getty Images
We start our series of the best player to wear each number for the Pittsburgh Penguins with 1-10, including profiles on Joe Mullen, Mark Recchi and Ron Francis!
#1 – Johan Hedberg
With apologies to Denis Heron (3rd all-time in games played for goalies, but a pretty woeful 88 133-44 record, 3.88 GAA and .879 save %) we’re gonna award this to Johan Hedberg. In the spring of 2001 Hedberg was like Cinderalla at the ball when the Pens traded for him and gave him a chance in the NHL. The soft-spoken Swede took advantage, winning the #1 goalie job and never looking back, leading the Pens to the Eastern Conference finals in the magical playoff run of Mario Lemieux’s return. Hedberg would stick around for two more season with the Pens, who were then in full decline when the clock struck midnight and they had to shed the salaries of players like Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang during Hedberg’s final days in Pittsburgh.
#2 – Leo Boivin (1968-69)
Gotta defer to a guy who is in the NHL Hall of Fame in Leo Boivin, even if he only played two seasons at the tail end of his career in the very early days of the Penguins franchise. Boivin was the captain of the Boston Bruins prior to coming to Pittsburgh lead Pens defensemen in goals both of the seasons he played with the Pens. #2 has sort of been a rough number for Pens defensemen even in the Cup years- Hal Gill only played 80 regular season games with the team, Jim Paek was a Cup member in 1992 but didn’t play a long role for very long either, so neither get the nod.
#3 – Ron Stackhouse (1974-1982)
Stackhouse was sort of the Ryan Whitney of his day- fans got on his case often and didn’t appreciate his offensive-minded game while he was in town. Still, for the pre-Lemieux days of the Pens, Stackhouse was one of the top players in franchise history to that point. He tied an NHL record for defensemen when he tallied 6 assists in one game while wearing a Pens sweater and also had season point totals of 60 and 71, higher point totals than any defenseman except Coffey, Carlisle and Murphy for franchise history . Three times Stackhouse scored more than 10 goals in a season. Stackhouse’s 621 career games as a Penguin rank him 1st in franchise history among all defensemen, and his 343 career points rank him 17th in franchise history and second among defensemen behind only Paul Coffey.
#4 – Kevin Hatcher (1997-99)
Kevin Hatcher played three complete seasons for the Penguins and he scored 15, 19 and 11 goals those three years from his defensive positioning. He came to the team in a fairly controversial trade (with Sergei Zubov going back to Dallas) and Hatcher’s game dropped off as the years wore on. Still, he was more distinguished in his time with #4 than guys like Rob Scuderi or Zbynek Michalek could be in two seasons, so he’ll get the nod here for his offensive game in the late ‘90s.
#5 – Ulf Samuelsson (1991-95)
The name alone drawls a snare to an opposing fan. Ulf Samuelsson. He was relentless, dogged, fierce and yes dirty a player there ever was. If he was on your team, you loved him. If he wasn’t, you wished he’d be arrested. Samuelsson was a rock on defense and key players on the Pens first two Cup championships. For a team with a lot of skill and flash, they definitely needed some mean players and toughness to round the squad out and Samuelsson definitely could provide that. Samuelsson only played 277 games as a Penguin (just 60th all-time) but ended with 804 penalty minutes (8th highest career mark for a Penguin). Also, despite how you may feel about plus/minus numbers, Ulf’s +76 ranks him 7th among Penguins all-time, an indication he was definitely seeing the rubber go into the right net more often than not.
#6 – Jim Johnson (1985-91)
Johnson started out with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent and gave the Pens the first six years of his NHL career. He was a good player in many facets of the game and ended up getting traded to Minnesota at the deadline as the deal that brought Larry Murphy and Peter Taglianetti to the Pens. The two teams would meet in the Finals that year, with Johnson falling short of getting his old team back.
#7 – Joe Mullen (1991-97)
Joe Mullen came to the Pens as a Stanley Cup champion with Calgary in 1989 and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest complimentary players the game has seen. A winger who wasn’t the biggest, didn’t have a great skating stride, but did have an incredible knack for getting to scoring positions and putting pucks past goalies. Mullen recorded his career 500th goal with the Pens, making him the first American born NHL’er to achieve that plateau. He also won the two Cups and is 12th in franchise history in goals (153).
#8 Mark Recchi (1989-1991, 2005-06, 2006-2007)
When the Pens drafted a small forward in the 4th round of the 1988 draft, it’d be hard to imagine his impact with the team over the next 20 years. Recchi broke his teeth with the Penguins, eventually becoming a terrific scoring forward. 1990-91 was arguably Recchi’s best year- not only did he have a 40 goal, 113 point regular season his 34 playoff points (10g, 24a) were second on the team in scoring to only Mario Lemieux to help the Pens win their first Cup. The following year Recchi would be the major piece traded to Philadelphia in the deal that brought Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuellson and Ken Wregget to the Pens and probably boosted the team to a second championship.
Then after many successful seasons in Philadelphia and Montreal, Recchi would sign with the Penguins after the lockout for the 2005-06 season. The season went south and the Pens struggled and Recchi accepted a trade to the Carolina Hurricanes, a team he helped win the Stanley Cup. Recchi then returned one more time as a free agent to Pittsburgh where he had a productive 68 point season in 2006-07 before falling out of favor with coach Michel Therrien and eventually put on waivers in 2007-08, a sad ending to the proud chapter of Recchi’s Pittsburgh career. Despite being 27th in franchise history for games played, Recchi ended up 11th in the Pens record books for goals (154) and 15th in assists (231) and 13th in points (385).
#9 Pascal Dupuis (2008 to current)
In what’s becoming a legend, Pascal Dupuis was a mere throw in to a very important trade in Penguins history. GM Ray Shero gambled and went for a home-run on deadline day 2008 when he sent core NHL player Colby Armstrong and promising youngster Erik Christensen and basically two-first round picks (Angelo Esposito, the Pens 1st rounder in 2007, as well as the rights to the 2008 1st) to Atlanta for Marian Hossa….And Pascal Dupuis. Hossa and Dupuis helped elevate the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008, but Hossa bolted. Dupuis, stuck around, though primarily a 4th line role player who only scored 28 points in 71 regular season games and then 0 point in 16 playoff games when the Penguins won their 3rd Stanley Cup.
Dupuis persisted and given his speed and forechecking ability, often found a spot on Sidney Crosby’s line for the past three seasons. Largely without Crosby though, Dupuis put up a 25 goal, 34 assist, 59 point campaign in 2011-12, the best of his ten season NHL career to date. Dupuis currently has 74 goals, 100 assists for 174 points in 331 career games as a Penguin.
#10 Ron Francis (1992-98)
Francis (who wore the #9 upon coming to Pittsburgh in a 1991 trade) was pretty much a coach’s dream. Reliable, talented, consistent, he had the total variety of skill when he played 7+ years of his prime as a Penguin. Francis’ 613 points rank him 4th all-time in Pens history (behind Lemieux, Jagr and Kehoe) and Francis is 3rd all-time behind only 66 and 68 with 449 assists as a Pen. Francis was instrumental in the first two Penguin Stanley Cups and often had to carry the burden of the offense in the ‘90s while Lemieux was frequently off the ice for his many injuries and he also carried the flag as captain for the 1997-98 season during Lemieux’s retirement. Francis’ best season as a Pen may have been 1995-96, when he scored 119 points (27g, 92a) and finished 4th in the league in scoring (with his linemates Lemieux and Jagr finishing 1 and 2).