Loved this idea and read over at Broad Street so I’m just going to shamelessly rip it off and tailor it to a much better subject.
Let’s take a look down memory lane for five of the most forgettable Pittsburgh Penguins of all time.
It seemed like in and around the “X Generation” era of the Penguins there would be SO many old, broken down players who played the last gasps of their NHL careers in Pittsburgh. Odelein, at age 37 in 2005-06, is a perfect encapsulation of this, playing his last 27 career games with the Pens, when he probably shouldn’t have been given any more NHL games.
Once a fearsome (and fairly decent) hard-nosed defensive defenseman in the 1990’s for Montreal and New Jersey, Odelein was just an old, slow, very bad player at the end of his rope in Pittsburgh.
The only other thing I remember is that Odelein and Matthew Barnaby had a blood rivalry and pretty much got into fights every single game they played each other. Barnaby once said Odelein looked like Cornelius from the Planet of the Apes movies. Odelein publicly responded by calling Barnaby’s wife ugly. So, yeah, it was pretty chippy.
Have you ever seen the opening of “Eastbound and Down”? Rookie phenom Kenny Powers starts his career in the majors red hot, then a montage goes to show his immense struggles while he slips out of the league. Then a card flashes up to say “several shitty years later” and flashes forward to Powers stuck at a dead end job as a substitute PE teacher, in his hometown, where he doesn’t want to be.
For Alexandre Daigle, after a fall from grace of being the number one overall pick in 1993, his “several shitty years later” scene would probably pick up on some dark, cold night riding buses in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre in 2002-03. That’s nothing against Wilkes, just that Daigle’s slide from being a potential sport-changing star left him in a totally anonymous position near the bottom of the hockey landscape, as Daigle attempted a comeback to pro hockey at age 27. He did not play competitively at all in the 2000-01 or 2001-02 seasons.
But unlike old Kenny P, it actually worked out for Daigle. He worked hard, was humble and generally well-liked and well-regarded by everyone in the Pens’ organization that year, where split the season between AHL Wilkes-Barre (38 points in 40 games) and NHL Pittsburgh (seven points in 33 games). It worked for the Pens, who were a very bad team and more than willing to take a risk on a talented player looking to re-find his game. And, like everything else in that era, it helped that the financial risk and output for Pittsburgh, naturally, was very minimal. After proving he could still play a bit, Daigle moved on as a free agent and signed with Minnesota in the summer 2003.
Daigle would go on to have probably his best NHL season ever that year, leading the Wild in goals (20) and points (51) in 2003-04. And for the dead puck era and a Jacques Lemaire team, that’s about equivalent to approximately a 120 point season in a normal era. Kidding...slightly.
But it seems very odd and forgettable that Daigle spent that career re-establishing season with Pittsburgh, and the kid who once famously said, “I’m glad I got drafted first because no one remembers number two” had a spin in a Pens’ jersey. (Also the kicker and cruel irony of Daigle’s statement is, as fate would have it, that Chris Pronger was drafted second that season — a player who would end up being FAR more memorable and impactful than Daigle).
Phillip Samuelsson is a defenseman the Pens drafted in the second round in 2009, best known for being the son of legendary Pens’ defenseman Ulf. The younger turned pro after his sophomore season at Boston College wrapped up in 2011-12. Samuelsson then toiled, from the ECHL to the AHL over the next few seasons, his stint in the Pittsburgh organization capped by five regular season games in the NHL in 2013-14. I do not remember these games. They were injury-related, as all of Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Deryk Engelland were out injured at the time, necessitating Samuelsson at the NHL level. In those five games (which came from December 16-23, 2013) he recorded no points, had no PIMs but did block seven shots and throw five hits in 15:34 average time played. Then the Pens got healthy and Samuelsson was never seen again in Pittsburgh. I don’t remember any of it, and kinda thought he was a total bust that never got a chance to play NHL games in Pittsburgh. But for that one week stretch, he did!
John LeClair isn’t on this list as a, “oh I forgot he ever played in Pittsburgh” type of way, because we all remember that it happened. It definitely happened. But more just because it still feels so weird and wrong.
But there was a bit of a surprise here to learn that LeClair played 94 career games with the Pens from 2005-07. That is more than I remembered or would have guessed. I struggle to name more than one thing John LeClair ever did as a Pen — OTHER than the incident where LeClair and Evgeni Malkin accidentally collided, during Malkin’s first ever NHL preseason game in September 2006. The result was Malkin crashing into the boards and separating his shoulder, delaying his NHL regular season debut. Not a great immediate memory to be a part of for LeClair.
Besides that, I couldn’t tell ya anything about LeClair’s 24 goals or 34 assists (which isn’t that bad!) that the stat sheet says he recorded in his Pens’ career. It’s just a blank area of nothingness in my memory. Feel like that’s the way it is for a majority of Pens’ people who probably would just best not remember anything having to do with LeClair as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
This one some diehard No. 66 trivia buffs will know, but Mario wasn’t the only Lemieux to ever play for Pittsburgh. His older brother Alain played one single game with the Pens in the 1986-87 season. (And apparently some exhibition games in 1990, though he didn’t make the team).
Overall Alain played 119 career NHL games from 1981-87, mostly with St. Louis. The Blues drafted Alain in the fifth round in 1980, four years before his “little” brother (who ended up five inches taller) got drafted first overall by the Pens. A. Lemieux and played several more years in the minors and Europe, and even was the coach of ECHL Wheeling for a time earlier in the 2000’s.
Bonus: Patrick Marleau
Made an editorial decision to preemptively put Marleau on this list. In 5-10 years, I bet we’ll look back and think “remember that time Patrick Marleau played eight games for the Pens????” and be blown away that all of this happened.
Marleau has deep roots in California, and is riding out the pandemic back there with his family. It’s widely expected Marleau will sign with San Jose in 2020-21 as he looks to overtake the NHL’s all-time career games played number. (Y’know, assuming we all get back to life as normal). So this was always going to be a pure rental for the Pens, and one that has been cut shorter than ever could have been anticipated.
Hopefully, let’s all cross our fingers that Marleau can get the opportunity to make more magical moments in Pittsburgh in some sort of playoff this summer, but otherwise this is just going to end up as a very bizarre footnote in his career and the team’s franchise history.