Former NHL tough guy John Scott had an interesting premise yesterday on twitter.
Who's a player from 2000-2010 that kids today don't realize how good they were?— John Scott (@johnscott_32) December 9, 2019
Got us thinking how this would apply for the Penguins. And while, to me, it doesn’t seem like so long ago for 2000-2010, it’s an interesting end-of-year and end-of-decade type of look back through the years.
Anyways, here’s my list and while I do think some “kids” might have heard these names or been familiar with these players, the emphasis goes back to just how good these players were. A guy like Ian Moran might have been serviceable on the first pair for all those years instead of playing down the lineup where maybe he belonged, but he wouldn’t apply for the other end of the qualification.
The best way I could put it for younger fans — picture Carl Hagelin, with some of the best speed and legs in the league. Motors all over the ice and makes a big difference, standing out even among the great skaters in the NHL. That was basically Straka. And, oh yeah, know how Hagelin tends to squander chances by firing them into the goalie or missing the net? Straka had better finish and ability to add vision and playmaking to the equation putting up 95 points in the 2000-01 season and really up through the end of his stint in Pittsburgh in 2003 despite several serious and fluky injuries.
You have to be careful with heaping superlatives on a player who has contemporaries with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. That said, Alexei Kovalev in the early 2000’s was a peer, if not even more purely talented than either all-time great by that point in their careers. Kovalev certainly wasn’t as consistent and prone to have empty periods or games, but he still could be a magician on the ice, playing the puck with dekes as if it were on a string and sensational offensive instincts matched only by having the hands enough to score at anytime.
By now, Ryan Whitney’s legacy to the game might be as his massive presence in the media/entertainment realm as hosting the biggest hockey podcast in the world. But he is more than just a big personality and jokester, he was once the No. 5 overall pick in 2002, pre-dating even Marc-Andre Fleury as the first big piece of the Penguins’ great rebuild of the early 2000’s.
Pre-injury from 2005-08, Whitney was a very productive defenseman, particularly on the power play. He had the size, skating and ability to rush the puck, snap it tape-to-tape and he scored 26 goals in a two year period at one point, big business from the blueline.
Whitney also commanded one of my personal absolute favorite games ever by a Penguin in 2008 in the Pens/Red Wings Stanley Cup Final series. Sergei Gonchar left the game with an injury, and Pittsburgh was in BIG trouble. On the road. A Detroit win meant they would get the Cup and the crowd was absolutely shaking, feeling the moment was on them. Whitney played 50:46— more than everyone, including Nicklas Lidstrom in that game! The Pens would go on to win. Gonchar got more of the glory, pulling a Willis Reed (many a youngster may need to click this link to get that reference), but it was a lot of double shifting by Whitney that helped get them to that moment.
The highlights aren’t the best, but a nice look back in time.
It’ll be interesting to see the comments on this one. The early 2000’s were an interesting decade for the Pens. Everyone knows Lemieux and Jagr and Crosby and Malkin and Fleury, the undisputed stars of the decade. Who would you put in that next tier for all the young people that may not have the sharpest memories of that time?