The Athletic had a really great feature about the best team one could make out of nothing but teammates of Colorado Avalanche players, so I figured why not
rip it off in these long days of summer err, have fun and tailor it to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I will stick with the same ground rules that they laid out, which sadly means that Mario Lemieux isn’t eligible, though I thought for minutes about how to make it possible.
A current Avalanche player must have been teammates with a selected player on a non-national team for a minimum of one game. Teammates who only overlapped on Olympic, world championship or junior world championship rosters are not eligible.
-Each Avalanche player can only be used once. Newly signed forward Darren Helm played on incredible Red Wings teams but he’s only allowed one former teammate
-Former Avalanche teammates do not count. Jarome Iginla, for example, isn’t eligible despite the fact that he played on the Avalanche with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, among other current players. But Brandon Saad would still be eligible because he played with Ryan Murray (in Columbus) and Dennis Gilbert (in Chicago) on other teams.
-All current Avalanche players are ineligible [as a connection]. MacKinnon does not count as Landeskog’s best teammate in this exercise.
-This roster considers players at the peaks of their careers. There are plenty of current players on the All-Teammate team who were brilliant in their primes but might not be at that level anymore.
This exercise was fairly difficult for a team like the Penguins, since now several players on the team have not played with any other organizations besides Pittsburgh, which limits the choices that we might have, but from junior teams and all there still is some fun to be had. With that in mind, here we go!
Left wing: Brad Marchand
Former teammate: Kris Letang (Val d’Or Foreurs, 2006-07)
Marchand is an annoying but easy add. Did you know that Marchand’s 69 points in 2020-21 led the NHL among non-Edmonton players? Marchand’s hockey skills and ability to produce points is a severely under-appreciated part of his game.
Center: Auston Matthews
Former teammate: Kasperi Kapanen (Toronto, 2016-20)
Matthews won the Rocket Richard with 41 goals in 52 games last season and was an MVP finalist. With 199 goals in just his first 334 career NHL games, he could be the league’s next great goal scorer if he continues on that pace.
Right wing: Patrice Bergeron
Former teammate: Danton Heinen (Boston, 2016-20)
I’m trying to stay true to positions, however Bergeron plays wing for Team Canada’s so we’ll allow that is enough to add him to the wing here. Also, it’s not a coincidence or accident that I’ve set the lines so that Matthews is slotted in with Sidney Crosby’s famous and successful national team wingers.
Left wing: Peter Forsberg
Former teammate: Jeff Carter (Philadelphia, 2005-06)
Again with the positional constraints, but we’ve got a ton of center depth here, and Forsberg had some wing capability so this doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch. Fun to grab a “blast from the past” old school legendary competitor in Forsberg, and remember that Jeff Carter is old enough to be a common teammate of one of the most celebrated players in recent NHL memory. Another “believe it or not” Carter teammate in 05-06? Petr Nedved.
Center: Aleksander Barkov
Former teammate: Mike Matheson (Florida, 2015-20)
Barkov is one of those great talents that just about all hockey fans want to see do more with a better team around him, and maybe now he’s getting that chance as Florida builds up. For a player with a great “very underrated” and “great defensive player”, Barkov isn’t quite the two-way center his reputation sometimes suggests. But he is certainly a very elite and talented player whose offensive and finishing ability is probably slept on a bit by the narratives out there.
Right wing: Johnny Gaudreau
Former teammate: Brian Dumoulin (Boston College, 2011-12)
“Johnny Hockey” is always a player I’ve wanted to see play with the Pens for his speed and offensive creativity. He doesn’t really seem like the perfect board-battling Sidney Crosby winger, but the pure skill would be fun. Gaudreau won’t play with Crosby on this team, but would add a dash of production to the mix.
Left wing: Drew Stafford
Former teammate: Sidney Crosby (Shattuck St. Mary’s, 2002-03)
Crosby doesn’t have a lot to offer in this exercise since the national teams are banned. He played with no one of consequence in juniors, so we have to reach all the way back to high school for a teammate who carved out a nice NHL career.
Center: Jack Eichel
Former teammate: Evan Rodrigues (Boston University 2014-15, Buffalo 2015-20)
Our team is very deep down the middle. Neck injury woes aside, Eichel is a franchise caliber type of player and would probably love to join this team and get out of Buffalo. Alas (for the both of us) it’s just a fantasy exercise. Feel like it’s bonus points for the double Eichel+Rodrigues connection at both NCAA and NHL levels.
Right wing: Corey Perry
Former teammate: Marcus Pettersson (Anaheim, 2017-19)
Already got Marchand, so why not have the team take a full heel turn with Corey Perry too? He’ll bring his edge and knack for playing well and deep into the playoffs for us, if nothing else.
Left wing: Conor Sheary
Former teammate: Teddy Blueger (Wilkes-Barre, 2015-16)
This might technically be cheating since Sheary was a teammate to a current Penguin while still in the Pens’ organization, but for the sake of getting through this, I’m taking it. Deal with it.gif
Center: Ryan O’Reilly
Former teammate: Evgeni Malkin (Magnitogorsk, 2012)
This has to be the strangest connection on the list, but it’s not a misprint. During the NHL’s fall 2012 lockout, some players sat and awaited the end of the labor dispute. other players went to various leagues to play to make a little bit of money and have a new experience. One such player was Ryan O’Reilly, who signed with Magnitogorsk (where he only played 12 games). O’Reilly was just 21 at the time and very unusually has the connection of being a one-time teammate of Malkin.
Right wing: Kasperi Kapanen
Former teammate: Juuso Riikola (KalPo, 2012-15)
Riikola is technically still on the team, so this pick works. Kapanen is a current Penguin but I’m going to say he’s eligible since he was a teammate of a current Penguin on a non-Penguin team. Confused yet? Just roll with it.
Left defenseman: Ivan Provorov
Former teammate: Mark Friedman (Philadelphia 2018-21)
A great all-around player that can chew up minutes, skate and move the puck.
Right defenseman: Adam Fox
Former teammate: John Marino (Harvard, 2016-19)
Gotta add the reigning Norris trophy winner when you can. Since the NHL is back on ESPN someone should make like a 30 for 30 about Harvard’s 2018-19 defense. It was insane with Fox, Marino, Reilly Walsh (a NJ 3rd round pick) and Jack Rathbone (a Vancouver 4th rounder who played in the NHL in 2020-21 a little). Unreal amount of talent on that blueline, for what was a decent but not exactly tremendous NCAA team that year.
Left defenseman: Ryan Suter
Former teammate: Jason Zucker (Minnesota 2012-20)
A prime-aged Suter would be a great addition to any team. Good thing this team doesn’t have to be salary cap compliant.
Right defenseman: Dougie Hamilton
Former teammate: Brock McGinn (Carolina, 2018-21)
The NHL’s newest $9 million man can work his possession magic for this team any day of the week.
Left defenseman: Mark Pysyk
Former teammate: Tristan Jarry (Edmonton Oil Kings 2011-12)
I loaded up so much that my depth is a bit shallow. But go look at the top four, this pair isn’t going to play much.
Right defenseman: Neal Pionk
Former teammate: Jake Guentzel (Sioux City Musketeers, 2012-13)
Pionk has blossomed into a heck of a player out in Winnipeg, and we’ll dig way deep into Guentzel’s career to find him.
Starter: John Gibson
Former teammate: Bryan Rust (US Development team, 2009-10)
I was going to find a way to get Gibson on the Pens someway, somehow. If only the real Penguins could. Sigh.
Backup: Ryan Miller
Former teammate: Chad Ruhwedel (Buffalo, 2012-14)
You can do a lot worse for a backup plan than a goalie with the career and talent that Miller had.
So there you have it. Pretty fun to do, but also kinda maddening to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.