Ranking the 5 Toughest Players in Pittsburgh Penguins History
Known for its blue-collar work ethic and toughness, the city of Pittsburgh has always had a soft spot for hard-nosed players.
In a town where players like "Mean" Joe Green of the Steelers and Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner of the Pirates are still venerated, Penguins fans still talk of "Battleship" Kelly, "Slippery Rock Joe" Mullen and other rugged players of the past.
Although the Pens' Ring of Honor may be adorned with names of the franchise's most skilled players, you'll often find fans at the Consol Energy Center wearing jerseys of the toughest players in team history, who would otherwise go unrecognized.
Since their recognition is long overdue, let's look at the five toughest players in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
Honorable Mention: Ulf Samuelsson
Known by the nickname “Robocop” for his suit of armor-like pads and his resemblance to the movie character, Ulf Samuelsson played hockey with a linebacker mentality.
Acquired along with Ron Francis and Grant Jennings from the Hartford Whalers in 1991, Samuelsson brought a much-needed nastiness to a Pens team that already had plenty of talent. With Samuelsson on the ice, the goal area became a very dangerous place to operate.
At 6'1'' and weighing 205 pounds, Samuelsson's size and nastiness made him one of the NHL's most feared hitters, and he led the team in penalty minutes during his tenure in Pittsburgh.
Never one to shy away from a big hit, or even a dirty hit, Samuelsson famously laid out Cam Neely in the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs, and many observers blame that hit for eventually ending Neely's career.
No. 5: Rick Tocchet
It's been often said, "if you can't beat them, join them." In the case of Rick Tocchet, that sentiment proved to be good advice.
Having tormented the Pens for years as a member of the cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers, Tocchet was acquired in a three-team deal in 1992, along with Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget, to bring toughness to a Pens team that was looking to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
The move would pay immediate dividends as Tocchet, who would play primarily alongside Mario Lemieux, provided both muscle and goal-scoring ability. In his 1992-1993 season, Tocchet tallied 48 goals and 252 penalty minutes.
Over the course of his career, Tocchet would amass more than 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes, joining the ranks of recent Hall of Fame inductee Brendan Shanahan and the next man on our list, Gary Roberts.
No. 4: Gary Roberts
Sometimes, tough players don't need a lot of time to make a big impression on a game, on a team or on a city.
While Gay Roberts' stay in Pittsburgh was short (just 73 games from 2007-2008), his impact on the Pens was immediate and lasting.
Acquired by Pens general manager Ray Shero to add toughness and grit to a young and inexperienced Pens squad, Gary Roberts, at age 41, quickly became the conscience of the team.
By his willingness to make big hits and to pay the physical price, Robert set the example, and the Pens followed.
As a result of his leadership and the toughness he showed, a talented but inexperienced Pens team matured and became a Stanley Cup contender.
No. 3: Bryan "Bugsy" Watson
At 5’9” and weighing only 170 lbs, Bryan "Bugsy" Watson didn't have the look of an NHL tough guy, but he had the heart of one.
Acquired from the Oakland Seals in 1968, Watson spent parts of six seasons in Pittsburgh and brought a much-needed toughness to an expansion Pens team that was often pushed around by other teams.
Watson would lead the team in penalty minutes in three of his four full seasons with the Pens, became of one of the league's original agitators and was known for shadowing the opposing team's top players.
Ranked by TSN as the No. 2 agitator in NHL history, Watson is still remembered as one the game's all-time tough guys and became one of the most beloved players during the Pens' early years.
No. 2: Matthew Barnaby
While his time with the Penguins was relatively short, Matthew Barnaby quickly earned the respect and admiration of Pittsburgh fans.
Acquired on March 11, 1999 in a deadline deal with the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Stu Barnes, Barnaby brought toughness to a Pens team that was searching for an identity after the retirement of Mario Lemieux.
Known for his willingness to fight anybody at any time, Barnaby famously squared off against best friend and former teammate Rob Ray in his return to Buffalo after having gone to dinner with Ray the night before.
Although he only played 129 games as a member of the Pens, Barnaby amassed 399 penalty minutes and quickly earned a place among the franchise's toughest players. He was voted by TSN as the No. 1 agitator in NHL history.
No. 1: Darius Kasparaitis
As a member of the 1993 New York Islanders team that upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in the playoffs, Darius Kasparaitis was a hated man in Pittsburgh.
That is until he was acquired in a trade from the Islanders on November 17, 1996, along with Andreas Johansson, in exchange for Bryan Smolinski.
Kasparaitis instantly became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and will always be remembered for his thunderous hit on the Flyers' Eric Lindros in 1998 and for scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 7 against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs.
With his knack for catching players with their heads down, Kasparaitis had the ability to make a trip through the neutral zone a risky proposition for opposing players.
Although he was only 5’11” and weighed barely 200 pounds, Kasparaitis was fearless on the ice and was always willing to take on anybody. That's why he gets my vote for the toughest player in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
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