The year 2020 still seems like it’s far away, doesn’t it? Not less than four months away from ticking over.
With that nice round number in mind, who have been the best Pittsburgh Penguins in the last 20 years? To make for a nice all-Pens team of the 21st century.
For reference of how things have broken out this century for the team, here are the top 66 scorers the team has had via hockey-reference (starting with the 1999-2000 season on):
Kris Letang has had staying power, but it was a bit surprising to me to see him checking in third on this list. It’s still pretty cool that Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (despite not playing very many games) are still holding at 11th and 13th, respectively. Jake Guentzel is hunting the legends down, but after that they’ll stay in the top 15 for quite some time still to come.
Here’s who has laced ‘em up the most in the 21st century (well, again starting with October 1999):
Tyler Kennedy showing up so high was surprising to me. Didn’t feel like he’s played more games right now in a Pens’ jersey than Patric Hornqvist or Brian Dumoulin has, but it’s true (for a little while longer, anyways).
Now let’s build a team. It’s fun because you can pretty much make it however you want, and there’s certainly no shortage of star power. I’m going to consider it to be only as they were in the 2000’s. So Mario Lemieux to me for this isn’t THE 1988 Mario who was unstoppable, he’s the 2000’s era player with a bad hip and back. I’m also going to consider the stint of playing with Pittsburgh in the 2000’s, so players like Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa aren’t going to make the all-2000’s Pens team, because they didn’t play enough of it in Pittsburgh.
It also goes to show player turnover in that playing two full seasons (164 games) will have you rank 50th in team history this decade. Play all the games in four seasons (328, whattup Phil) and you’re in 14th place. It certainly is a league with a lot of bouncing around and stints don’t always last that long..
With all that said, here’s the Pensburgh Team of the 2000’s:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
You just HAVE to start with this line, right? It was together for much of the 2010’s and fit for Sidney Crosby so well. Kunitz and Dupuis were players who could do everything well, and in their hey-day added speed, forechecking and always seemed to be in the right place. It’s justifiable to keep them together since Kunitz is the fourth highest Penguin scorer of the 21st century and Dupuis isn’t far behind at ninth.
Mario Lemieux - Evgeni Malkin - Jaromir Jagr
A coach might not like this line when they didn’t have the puck for defensive responsibility, but again, it’s tough not to have these guys here. Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy in 2000 and 2001, so he only played two seasons with Pittsburgh in the 21st century, but in both of them he was the best forward in the game and still at his peak.
Lemieux was fading in the twilight of his career, but he’s still Mario Lemieux with vision unlike any other. Add those two all-time greats with Evgeni Malkin and you’ve got one heck of a line.
Martin Straka - Jordan Staal - Alex Kovalev
Jordan Staal was always buried in a defensive role with checking caliber wingers, but that’s not the case here. Straka and Kovalev were two-thirds of a line (with Robert Lang) that saw all three place in the top-20 of league scoring in 2000-01 — Straka and Kovalev finished tied-for-fourth. And that was the Pens’ SECOND line that year.
Straka was total speed and great finishing, Kovalev was one of the most purely talented players to ever pick up a hockey stick. Add them with the all-around ability that Staal showed in Pittsburgh and you have one heck of a well-balanced line.
Ryan Malone - Max Talbot - Patric Hornqvist
Could have made a bit more of a skilled fourth line (Lang, Phil Kessel, Aleksey Morozov, Jan Hrdina and Jake Guentzel all available and considered) but I’m going to add energy, effort and heart-and-soul type players to round out my team. Malone developed into an impact player that helped turn the Pens around, and Talbot and Hornqvist have game winning goals in Stanley Cup Final clinching games, and that’s the type of element you need.
They would run through a wall or block a shot with their face if they needed to, and that feels right to be a “4th line” type of mentality on a team full of superstars that doesn’t need more offensive muscle but maybe a different type of tempo and offer another look.
Sergei Gonchar / Kris Letang
It’s all offensive all the time, but there’s no doubt these are the top-two defenders of the 2000’s for the Pens. Both receive(d) Norris votes at times, and both probably get over-scrutinized for defensive miscues but both are tremendous puck movers and minute-eaters that facilitate the offense.
Brooks Orpik / Ryan Whitney
With the passing of time, it’s easier to forget the impact Ryan Whitney had with 150 points (t-21st among all skaters in the 2000’s). Orpik, hilariously, has almost as many points as a Penguin, through sheer games played. A classic defensive defenseman and puck mover here.
Brian Dumoulin / Darius Kasparaitis
Kasparaitis stuck around long enough in the 2000’s to make our team, because of his all around impact. He was miscast as a first pair guy, but the Pens didn’t have much else to work with and he could at least be passable in that role. But he thrived of course when he didn’t have puck and making life hell for the forwards skating in against him. We’ll team him here with the super-smooth Dumoulin and make for a tremendous shut-down pair.
Marc-Andre Fleury / Matt Murray
In a few more years, this may end up being the tandem for the team’s all-time history and not just this century (apologies Tom Barrasso).
So this will be a natural point to build differing teams, no right or wrong answer but let us know who makes your Pens team of the 2000’s.