The All-Time Greatest Pittsburgh Penguins at Every Position

Steve RodenbaughContributor IIINovember 2, 2013

The All-Time Greatest Pittsburgh Penguins at Every Position

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    While other teams in the NHL may boast a longer history than the Pittsburgh Penguins, few can match the Penguins in their history of great players.

    Since their inception in 1967 as part of the NHL's first expansion, the Pens have been blessed with great players, even if those great players had the misfortune on playing on some less-than-great teams.

    As we look forward to the rest of an eventful season, let's look back at the greatest players at each position in Pittsburgh Penguins franchise history.

Center: Mario Lemieux

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    Honorable Mention: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin

    In almost any other organization, players like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby might have already been considered the greatest centers in franchise history.  

    The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, are not one of those organizations, thanks to the legendary accomplishments of former player and current owner Mario Lemieux.

    Drafted with the first overall pick in the 1984 draft, Lemieux led the Pens to back-to-back Stanley Cups, in 1991 and 1992, and is a six-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy, as the NHL's leading scorer which ties him for second with Gordie Howe behind only Wayne Gretzky who won the award 10 times.

    Having been credited with saving hockey in Pittsburgh as a player in his first stint with the Pens, Lemieux did so again as an owner by saving the franchise from bankruptcy and even returned from a three-year retirement, in 2000, and led the Pens to the Eastern Conference Final.

    Lemieux would remain as the Pens captain until the arrival of Sidney Crosby in 2005, retiring with 690 career goals and as the NHL's all-time leader in goals per game with an astounding mark of .749. 

Left Wing: Kevin Stevens

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    Honorable Mention: Luc Robitaille and Ryan Malone

    Blessed with great size, skating ability and an overpowering shot, Kevin Stevens was the prototype power forward in the NHL during his first tenure with the Pens from 1988-1995.

    Averaging 35 goals per season during that stretch, Stevens was a fixture on Mario Lemieux's left wing and often in front of the opponents' net where his 6'3" and 230-pound frame made him an immovable force.

    In addition to his All-Star-caliber play on the ice, Stevens was known for his demonstrative leadership of the ice and his famous prediction that the Pens would rebound from an 0-2 deficit against the Boston Bruins to win the series in 1991 proved prophetic.

    Perhaps, the greatest compliment that could be paid to Stevens is that, in a franchise with a long history of great players, the Pens have never been able to find another player who possessed the entire package as Kevin Stevens did.

Right Wing: Jaromir Jagr

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    Honorable Mention: Jean Pronovost and Rick Kehoe

    While there are a lot of Penguins fans who have soured on Jaromir Jagr since he left the Penguins in 2001, the fact remains that he, ranking second behind only Mario Lemieux in goals, assists and points in franchise history, is the greatest right wing in franchise history.

    Possessing a unique blend of size, speed and stickhandling, Jagr seemed, at times, indefensible for NHL defensemen, and his ability to take the puck off the boards and carry it into the slot to create scoring chances was unsurpassed.

    Although his enigmatic personality often caused rifts both in the locker room and with fans and ultimately led to his departure in 2001, Jagr was truly one of the greatest players of the past 20 years and the greatest right wing in franchise history.

Defensemen: Paul Coffey and Randy Carlyle

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    Honorable Mention: Larry Murphy and Kris Letang

    While Paul Coffey and Randy Carlyle only played a combined 11 seasons with the Penguins, their individual accomplishments were so impressive and their impact on the franchise were so profound that they had to be at the top of the list of great Penguin blue-line greats.

    Having bounced around the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for a few seasons, Randy Carlyle joined the Pens in 1978 and would develop into one of the game's best defenseman.  

    Following the 1980-81 season, a season in which he tallied 16 goals and 67 assists, Carlyle would become the only player in franchise history to win the Norris Trophy.

    After spending seven years with the Edmonton Oilers where he was part of three Stanley Cup champions, Paul Coffey was acquired by the Pens in a trade in 1987 to provide mobility and playmaking ability to the Pens' defensive unit.

    Totaling 440 points over the next five seasons, which is good enough for 11th in franchise history, Coffey would be both catalyst and mentor for a maturing Pens team, as they developed into a contender and won their first Stanley Cup in 1991.

    Although other players may have spent more time with the Pens, no other defensemen accomplished as much or had as profound an impact on the fortunes of the franchise as did Paul Coffey and Randy Carlyle. 

     

Goaltender: Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Honorable Mention: Tom Barrasso and Ken Wreggett

    While the selection of Marc-Andre Fleury as the best goaltender in Penguins history would have caused an uproar had this list been compiled last summer after another postseason flameout, Fleury's strong play this season and a little perspective make this an easier selection.

    While many will point to the fact that Fleury has only one Stanley Cup on his resume, he is the franchise leader in games played, wins and shutouts and his .910 save percentage is the highest for any Pens' goaltender who stuck around for more than just one season in Pittsburgh.  

    In addition, Fleury has been hampered, at times, by substandard defensemen in front of him and the lack of a quality backup behind him, especially during his early years with the Pens.

    As a result, Fleury has had to, at times, stand on his head in net and carry more of the burden than he should have which could led to fatigue late in the season and may be partly to blame for his erratic performances in the playoffs.

    Despite his recent postseason struggles and numerous detractors, Fleury's accomplishments have earned him both the top spot in the Pens' record books for goaltenders and a spot on this list as the top goaltender in franchise history.