When it came to important individual milestones last season in 2022-23, it was a Malkin/Letang type of year. Both of the “other” franchise cornerstones celebrated their respective 1,000th career game last season, and in memorable fashion.
Evgeni Malkin’s big night game came on November 20th in Chicago, where his family flew in as a surprise and his son Nikita read the starting lineup. Malkin scored a goal, the Penguins won 5-3 and all was well in Pens world for that night.
Due to a Masterton level of adversity, Kris Letang would have to wait into April for his big night, a 4-2 win over the Flyers that temporarily kept hope alive for a playoff spot in Pittsburgh. Letang didn’t score any points in the game, but did play 30+ minutes in a regulation game for a fitting career achievement. And we got more Alex Letang, which is always a good thing.
The Malkin and Letang moments were special, and to be fondly remembered. After all, prior to 2022-23, only one player had ever played all of Games No. 1 - 1,000 with the Penguins in their career (that, of course being Sidney Crosby). Now, the feat has been tripled.
One good part about being an old team is that there always is a fun milestone around the corner for players like Crosby, Malkin and Letang. Let’s check out some notable achievements that could be on the horizon in 2023-24, based on current career totals in these various categories.
It was a bit lost in the shuffle with last year’s 1,000 theme for Malkin and Letang that Sidney Crosby became just the 20th player in NHL history to record 900 career assists. With health (knock on all the wood) and a good year, Sid now sets his sights to becoming the 14th player to hit the 1,000 assist plateau.
Crosby crossed the 1,500 point plateau at the end of last season and he’s now truly chasing down history in this regard. He’s 15th all-time in points, and Paul Coffey (1,531), Mark Recchi (1,533) and Joe Thornton (1,539) are all within reach. A little further up the list and even 10th place Phil Esposito (1,590) isn’t safe if Crosby has an output this year that he did last year (93 points).
It would be a stretch, but a 29-goal season would get Malkin to the 500 club (he scored 27 playing all 82 games last year, but hasn’t scored 29+ in a single season since 2017-18). 800 assists looks like a pretty good bet for Malkin this year, and No. 71 is 71 points away from 1,300 as well.
Will Letang get to 700 points or penalty minutes first? The smart bet would be points, being as he hasn’t had more PIMs than points in a year since 2017-18. One double-minor or misconduct could tip the scales on that race, though.
With near perfect or perfect attendance in 2023-24, we could see Karlsson celebrate his silver stick for 1,000 career games at the tail end of the season. Scoring 22 goals would be audacious to actually count on, but fun if he can somehow do it (Karlsson has only scored 22+ in a season once, but it was last year). Getting 39 points to meet the 800 point mark will be much more attainable.
Smith should be getting to 500 points with his new team, hopefully before you even know it.
Only including to point out that Carter doesn’t have any significant round numbers to play for, at least besides the ones that come inside his paycheck.
99 power play points
Guentzel should be inching up the franchise ledgers and getting to career goal No. 200 shortly after he returns from summer ankle surgery.
Coming to Pittsburgh did a world of good for Rakell, who should be able to hit the 200 goal mark of his own this year.
If Rust gets 28 assists to join the 200 club in 2023-24, that would likely be a great sign for him and the team. For one reason or another (injury, shortened seasons, slumps, etc), Rust only has reached that many assists in just two of his seven full-time NHL seasons-to-date.
Ooh, another silver stick celebration is on the horizon with Eller this season (albeit, carrying less weight for the franchise considering he’ll only play 46 of the games with the Pens). Pittsburgh would surely like to see Eller (whose offense fell to produce just 23 points in 84 games last year) buck his recent offensive decline and score 29+ points this season, considering he’s been ticketed to play a third line role.
Nieto’s first point with the Penguins will be a slightly individually significant one for him.
The Dragon is closing in on his 400th career game (313 with Pittsburgh). This season, he’s got a realistic shot to pass all of the following defenders for career games with the Pens: Sergei Gonchar (nine games ahead), Paul Coffey (18 ahead), Larry Murphy (33), Olli Maatta (49). Pretty wild stuff for a player who is seemingly suddenly becoming one of the more prolific defensemen in franchise history, in terms of dressing for games.
Jarry enters 2023-24 tied with Matt Murray in Pittsburgh regular season wins (Murray did it in five fewer starts, for what it’s worth). One more win and Jarry will only be looking up at Tom Barrasso and Marc-Andre Fleury, the two most accomplished regular season goalies in franchise history. Jarry is also only nine career Penguin shutouts behind Barrasso (22 to 13) despite starting 253 fewer games. Different game from then ‘til now and all, but that stands out. Jarry probably won’t get all the way there this year, but it would be pretty cool if he made a run at it.