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How Chad Ruhwedel’s fringe roster status makes Penguins history

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He has one of the most unique careers the franchise has ever seen.

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Chad Ruhwedel moves the puck against the New York Rangers on Jan. 24, 2021.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Can you name the remaining Penguins from the 2016-17 championship squad still on the roster in 2021-22?

Five probably come off the top of your head: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Now, add in Brian Dumoulin and a recently re-acquired Dominik Simon.

But there are two names you might have forgotten were on the 2017 roster: Tristan Jarry, current starting goaltender who at the time was a third-stringer, and Chad Ruhwedel, the fringe defenseman who has been in the NHL since 2012 but has never played more than 44 games in a single season.

Ruhwedel and Jarry share a unique honor: they are two of the longest-tenured players in history to have spent at least five seasons in Pittsburgh, but played in fewer than 200 games.

With 154 games in five seasons from 2016 to 2021, Ruhwedel has skated in the eighth-fewest contests of any five-season Penguin in history; Jarry, who has appeared in 101 games in the same span, ranks fifth.

So who are the other most fringe Penguins in history, who hung around the club for years without becoming a major part of the roster? And why is Ruhwedel’s story in particular so unique?

Only eight Penguins, including Jarry, have played fewer games than Ruhwedel while suiting up in Pittsburgh in five or more seasons.

Roberto Romano (125 games played in six seasons from 1982 to 1994) was signed undrafted out of the QMJHL. He spent his professional career mostly as a backup goaltender, vacillating between the Penguins, the AHL’s Baltimore Skipjacks and Italy’s top hockey league.

Wendell Young (111 games played in five seasons from 1988 to 1995) might be the most memorable name on this list, in part because the goaltender won back-to-back Cups with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, and also because he now manages the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He played a career-high 43 games in 1989-90, but spent most of his career serving as a backup to Tom Barrasso or in the now-defunct IHL.

Dustin Jeffrey (100 games played in six seasons from 2008 to 2014) is a center selected late by Pittsburgh in the 2007 draft. He was in the backup squad for the 2009 Cup team, although he didn’t skate in the postseason. He spent most of his Penguins career in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Jim Hamilton (95 games played in eight seasons from 1977 to 1985) is a winger who spent eight seasons as an AHL call-up for the Penguins, playing a career-high 25 games in his rookie season of 1977-78.

Frank Pietrangelo (87 games played in five seasons from 1987 to 1992) is a netminder who spent much of his Penguins career as a backup to Tom Barrasso and Wendell Young— and made a memorable name for himself during the 1991 playoffs.

Todd Charlesworth (86 games played in five seasons from 1983 to 1988) played one full NHL season with 67 games in 1984-85. After that, the blueliner appeared only occasionally on the roster as an AHL call-up.

As you can see from this list, Ruhwedel stands out as a unique case. He isn’t a backup goaltender like Jarry, Romano, Young or Pietrangelo; he isn’t a regular AHL call-up like Jeffrey, Hamilton or Charlesworth. He’s logged 154 games in Pittsburgh, but has spent just 33 contests with their AHL counterpart— and hasn’t spent even a moment in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the past two seasons.

His role as a long-term fringe NHL player, ready at any moment to rejoin the Penguins’ roster without intervening conditioning stints in the AHL, is a unique one.

In 2021-22, the Penguins might be looking to fill a roster spot left open by Cody Ceci. Will we see Ruhwedel return to the NHL after playing just 17 games in 2020-21? And with the blueliner turning 32 in 2022 and his contract up at the end of the season, is this the last we will see of him in Pittsburgh?