Justin K. Aller - Getty Images
We start our series of the best player to wear each number for the Pittsburgh Penguins with 11-20, including a nice mix of old (Jean Pronovost, Lowell MacDonald, Greg Malone) and new (Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz)
11 – Jordan Staal (2006-2012)
In the hardest decision, Jordan Staal edges out Darius Kasparaitis for this honor. Staal was a "3rd line" center who played 20 minutes a night in all situations- he could score, he could check, he could pretty much do it all and do it all well. Staal was a somewhat surprising #2 pick in 2006 and made the NHL team out of training camp. He didn’t look back, scoring 29 goals playing mostly on a line with then-fellow rookie Evgeni Malkin. Staal’s game evolved to become a Selke-worthy defensive forward with offensive punch, recording 80 points in 104 games his final two seasons in Pittsburgh. Few Pens fans who watched will ever forget the short-handed goal Staal scored in Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, a goal that changed the course of that series and helped the Pens to win their third Stanley Cup.
12- The Malones (Greg 1977-1983, Ryan 2004-2008)
In a unique twist, we’ll honor two players who’ve meant a lot to the Penguins over the years. Greg Malone was one of the stars of the pre-Lemieux Penguins and remains 14th in franchise history in scoring with 364 points in 495 career games with Pittsburgh. Malone was a good scoring winger, in 1978-79 he led the Pens in points (65) with a 35 goal, 30 assist campaign.
Greg’s son Ryan was born in Pittsburgh during his dad’s NHL stint and grew up in the city once the Malone’s settled down. Drafted by the Pens in the 4th round in 1999, Malone cracked the NHL roster for the 2003-04 season and scored 22 goals as a rookie, being one of a very few bright spots on a very dreadful Pens team. After the lockout, Malone was seen as a "backbone" player and leader of the team as they ascended to become one of the best teams in the league. In 2007-08, Malone scored 27 goals and 24 assists and his linemate had a very strong playoffs (16 points in 20 games) to help the Pens to the Stanley Cup finals. Malone peaked right at the time he hit the free agent market in his prime, and would sign a six year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
13- Bill Guerin (2009-10)
Only four players have ever worn the #13 for the Pens, long-time GM Craig Patrick considered it a superstition not to hand the "unlucky" number 13 out, so the pickins are slim. Billy Guerin was quite lucky for the Penguins though- he was picked up from the Islanders on deadline day 2009 for a conditional draft pick and plugged into the Pens top-line with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. The vet’s personality and leadership was an instant hit in Pittsburgh, scoring 12 points in 17 games before the playoffs. In the playoffs Guerin really shined, he scored in overtime of Game 2 against Philadelphia and scored what would become the game-winner in the deciding Game 7 against Washington. Off the ice, Guerin’s easy demeanor and Cup winning experience was a God-send for a mostly young group of players who rallied around their graybeard all the way to the Cup. The Pens brought Guerin back for 2009-10, and though Billy G was slowing down he still had a 21 goal, 45 point season to finish out his playing career.
14- Chris Kunitz (2009-current)
Kunitz nudges ‘80s player Doug Shedden for this honor for the Cup factor. The Pens acquired Kunitz shortly before the deadline in 2009 and put him on Sidney Crosby’s wing. The two showed chemistry with Kunitz’s ability to forecheck, win puck battles in the corners as well as an under-rated playmaking skill in the offensive zone turning into 18 points in 20 games before the playoffs. Though maligned for only scoring 1 goal, Kunitz put up 13 assists and his stellar physical play away from the puck definitely carried his weight. From there, Kunitz has been a consistent top-line player for the Pens, and in 2011-12 he scored a career high 61 points (26g, 35a).
15- Randy Cunneyworth (1986-89)
Randy Cunneyworth spent four seasons with the Penguins in the late ‘80s and had his best career year in 1987-88 scoring 74 points (35g, 39a) in 71 games. He was also scrappy, piling up 140+ penalty minutes in three of his four seasons in Pittsburgh. There haven’t been too many memorable #15’s for Pittsburgh, Cunneyworth is about the top of the heap for this number in just a limited stint.
16- Jay Caufield (1988-1993)
Modern day master of the telestrator, Jay Caufield was one of the toughest customers in the NHL during his playing days. Caufield’s 714 penalty minutes still rank him 9th overall on the Pens all-time list, and the guy known as "Mario’s enforcer" also helped train Lemieux for his return to NHL play in the year 2000. Caufield only scored 3 goals in his 194 career games as a Penguin, but given the out and out collection of BUMS who have worn the #16 for this franchise over the years, he’ll make the cut.
17-Rick Kehoe (1974-1985)
Rick Kehoe, somewhat surprisingly, is in the top 3 or 4 in just about every major offensive category in the Penguins record books. There’s points (Kehoe’s 636 rank third behind only Lemieux and Jagr), there’s games played (722- 4th) and goals (312, 4th). And even more surprising, he only recorded 88 penalty minutes in his entire career. After three years in Toronto, Kehoe stayed in Pittsburgh for his entire career and just continued to be one of the Pens better producing forwards year after year after year. Towards the end of his career, in 1980-81 he even enjoyed a breakout year and scored 55 goals, the same number as a fresh-faced kid named Gretzky scored that year.
18- Lowell MacDonald (1970-78)
MacDonald came to Pittsburgh at the end of his career, but even in his early-mid 30’s he abnormally had his most productive seasons of his career with the Penguins. If injuries hadn’t limited him to just 22 games in the final two seasons of his career, it’s likely MacDonald would have ranked a lot higher than the 21st place point getter in franchise history. Still, he recorded 306 points (140g, 166a) in 328 games with a Penguin and wore the #18 better than any other player in franchise history.
19-Jean Pronovost (1968-1978)
Before Lemieux, there was Pronovost. The Quebec born player came to Pittsburgh and fast became the Pens best player. In his best year, 1975-76, Pronovost scored 104 points (52g, 52a). All-time he still ranks 6th in Penguin history with points 603 and 3rd in games played and goals for the club. I don’t really have an appreciation for him, being too young to have ever watched him play, but dude has more points in a Pens jersey than anyone but 66 and 68 and pulled that jersey on more than anyone but 66 and 68, so he deserves a lot of respect.
20- Robert Lang (1997-2002)
Lang redeemed his career when the Pens picked him off the scrap heap in 1997. Eventually he became a steadfast offensive center on the 2nd line, and in 2000-01 he joined forced with Marty Straka and Alexei Kovalev for a career year for all three players. Lang, the least heralded, still scored 32 goals and tacked on 48 assists for an 80 point year. Lang’s abilities with the puck and passing skill opened up a lot of space for his teammates, and though he never really was a marquee, top-line guy, he definitely was a terrific complimentary player and enjoyed several very good seasons for the Pens where he could play at near a point-per-game levels.