*this article was last updated in August. 2022
since their inaugural season in 1967, pittsburgh penguins fans have witnessed some of the best players the sport has ever seen. not just the players on the ice, but also the stories that have emerged. From multiple bankruptcies to the threat of relocation on a couple of occasions, it was certain players who kept the team in Pittsburgh and brought historic success.
it’s hard to create a top 10 list for anything; most of the time he doesn’t. 1 choice will not be contested, but it is all that lies ahead that may show difficulties. For the penguins and their player histories, there are some great names.
surely one or two big names will be left off the list, but here it is; the top 10 players in the history of the pittsburgh penguins.
10. kevin stevens
Kevin Stevens, one of the best power forwards to ever play in the NHL, is one of the most underrated players in Penguin history. “artie”, as he was known, could score goals, make great passing plays and knew how to get under the opponent’s skin.
To this day, Stevens still ranks in the top 10 in franchise scoring statistics. with the penguins he scored 260 goals (7th of all time), 295 assists (10th) and 555 points (9th) in 522 games played. more than one point per game is solid for a player who made his living playing a gritty style of hockey. It was that style of play that helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.
more than just a point scorer, part of what made stevens such a great player is that he was able to rack up so many points, all while wasting a good chunk of time sitting in the penalty box. Artie is the only Penguins franchise leader in penalty minutes with 1,048. That’s an average of a two-minute minor penalty in each of the 522 games he played in Pittsburgh.
on one point per game as well as on one minor foul per game. How many players can say that?
9. rick kehoe
rick kehoe, a largely forgotten all-time great, was a pittsburgh point-scoring staple from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. he was the integral piece when the penguins went from the blue jersey days to the black and gold era.
Like Stevens, Kehoe still ranks in the top 10 of the franchise in all three major scoring categories. 312 goals (6th), 324 assists (9th) and 636 points (5th) are likely to stick around for some time. he only twice failed to reach 25 goals in a season. Before a certain French-Canadian superstar came along, Kehoe was the Penguins’ franchise points leader following his retirement during the 1984-85 season.
After his playing career, Kehoe transitioned to take a spot behind the bench with the Penguins. He helped turn young stars into better players as an assistant coach from 1986 to 2002. It was then that he replaced Ivan Hlinka as head coach for nearly two seasons. His record as coach is not very good (55-81-14-10), but neither was that team during those seasons. Kehoe was replaced by Ed Olczyk prior to the 2003-04 season.
Inducted into the Penguins Hall of Fame in 1992, Kehoe would go on to lead the franchise in points for several years. some names have passed from him since then, but he still stands as one of the all-time greats.
8. jean pronovost
While playing alongside other franchise legends like Ken Schinkel, Pierre Larouche, and the late great Michel Briere, Jean Pronovost is the original Great Penguin. During his 10 years in Pittsburgh, Pronovost helped raise the profile of penguins early on. He may not have turned into Stanley Cup wins, but for a young franchise, he was the first face of it.
From 1968 to 1978, Pronovost played 753 games and became the franchise’s first top scorer with 316 goals and 287 assists for 603 points. his goal tally ranks fifth all-time in franchise history and seventh in points. More than consistency, he set the standard for future generations of penguins. he was the first Penguins player to score 30, 40 and 50 goals, as well as 100 points in individual seasons.
pronovost, like some penguins to come, made the players around him better players. he was a focal point of the famous “century line” of penguins. Pronovost joined Lowell Macdonald and Syl Apps and achieved that name when they combined for over 100 goals and 200 points. all three reached those numbers four seasons in a row helping the team to the playoffs multiple times in those years.
The team itself was still not up to par in terms of success, but Pronovost was a beacon of hope and a light in the dark. helped the team to early minor success, but a springboard of fortunes to come.
7. kris letang
Kris Letang, the most recent Penguin to reach 600 career points, has far surpassed Paul Coffey as the best Penguins defenseman in franchise history. many factors over the years have supported that claim. Longevity, scoring prowess, and great defensive ability, Letang’s playing ability has made him a mainstay on the Penguins’ blue line since 2007.
Injuries and health issues have gotten in the way of letang’s game over the years, but that hasn’t slowed him down or taken anything away from his game. despite playing every game in a season just once, he is always on the ice. since the league started tracking the stat, no. 58 is second all time among skating penguins in total time on ice; over 22,000 minutes and counting. averaging just over 24 minutes per game, nothing has stopped him.
Through injuries, ranging from concussions to a herniated disc in the neck to a 2014 stroke caused by a hole in the heart, letang has never stopped producing; 941 games, 144 goals, 506 assists for 650 points.
Add in three Stanley Cup championships and Letang stands out as the franchise’s greatest blueliner and there’s much more to come.
6. marc-andre fleury
if you had asked penguin fans in 2015 if marc-andre fleury was an all-time great, you might have been mocked. to put it bluntly, he wasn’t good in the playoffs that year or the few previous seasons. a solid start to the 2017 postseason and everything he has done since then, the distance has made the heart grow fonder in bloom.
there is no doubt that fleury rests as the best goalkeeper to ever wear black and gold. he is the franchise leader in wins (375), losses (216) and shutouts (44), all by wide margins. Not even ’90s ballpoint pen favorite Tom Barraso can compare to those numbers.
fleury may not have been in the net for cup wins in 2016 and 2017, but without him, the penguins don’t make it to the final in either year. those cups plus a big game during the 2009 playoffs make him a three-time champion.
The Penguins are not an organization that has a revered history of goalkeeping. in fact, not a single goalie who has dressed for the penguins has made it into the hall of fame. Fleury will certainly be the first to do so. This past offseason, he received his first vezina trophy as the best goaltender in the nhl, and recently became only the third goalie to reach 500 wins, the doors never fully closed on a penguin reunion.
The goalie position in ice hockey is one of the most unpredictable and unstable in all sports. keeping one on his team for his entire career is a rarity. Has Fleury done great things with other teams? absolutely, but when he was exposed in the 2017 expansion draft, it was the right move at the time. In hindsight he’s always 20/20, but the legacy he left in Pittsburgh will last forever.
5. rum francisco
One of the game’s most complete players, Ron Francis was vital to the Penguins’ success in the 1990s. Over parts of eight seasons with the Penguins, he would see career peaks that would define the kind of player he it was. a true leader, a 200-footer, and an exceptional playmaker.
Looking at the numbers Francis put up, it’s hard to believe he only played in 533 games with the team. He had 164 goals and 449 assists for 613 points, twice leading the league in assists and topping the 100-point mark twice. he set career highs in assists and points in 1995-96 with 92 and 119 respectively.
francis was not only an incredible playmaker, but also one of the best defensive forwards the pens have ever seen. He still stands out as the only player to win a Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in Pittsburgh. Because of his leadership, he was also named team captain on a couple of occasions, in 1995 and for the 1997-98 season.
While Francis is well known as a Hartford Whaler or a Carolina Hurricane, his career was cemented in Pittsburgh. many of his high points and achievements were achieved while he was dressed in black and gold; two cups, a selke, and two of his three career lady byng awards for gentlemanly play.
4. Jaromir Jagr
jaromir jagr, one of the top five, perhaps one of the top three players of all time, began his illustrious and seemingly endless professional career in pittsburgh. Drafted in 1990, the youngster quickly became one of hockey’s best players. A young face who helped elevate the Penguins to championship status in 1991 and 1992, he had a lot more to prove as he aged.
jagr won the art ross trophy for the most points in a season five times with the penguins, including four in a row to cap his 11-year tenure in pittsburgh. from 1997 until his departure in 2001, he scored 446 points in 302 games. In total, in 806 games with the Penguins, he scored 439 goals, 640 assists and 1,079 points. the top five in franchise history.
Since 1987, the Penguins have only named four different players as captains. like francis, jagr is one of those few hallmarks. Jagr was captain from 1998 until his move to the Washington Capitals in 2001. It was the growth over the years in Pittsburgh as a leader and not just as a skilled hockey player that earned him the “C”. and it was like captain jagr of the penguins would help keep the organization in pittsburgh.
Man may never stop playing hockey, and that’s okay. If Jagr finally hangs up his skates, he can guarantee the jersey retirement will take place in Pittsburgh. very soon, he doesn’t. 68 will be hanging in the rafters of ppg paints arena and jagr will be immortalized forever.
3. evgeni malkin
That’s right, at this point, evgeni malkin has surpassed jagr in the lore of penguin history. Despite all the criticism and fans demanding a trade for him every summer, Malkin has gone from strength to strength and has become one of the most remarkable penguins of all time. yes, even more than jagr.
Starting with a look at the numbers, you can see where Malkin stands in penguin history. Through 981 games played, he has scored 444 goals, 702 assists, for 1,146 points. assists and points markers are third in franchise history while only 15 goals behind jagr for third place.
malkin has spent his entire career playing second fiddle to a soon-to-be-named superstar, but that’s not a bad thing for geno. He’s still been able to rack up some hardware like the 2006-07 Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, a 2011-12 Hart Trophy for League Most Valuable Player, and twice led the NHL in scoring. A Conn Smythe winner for playoff MVP during the 2009 cup race and two more cups in 2016 and 2017, his legacy is cemented in Penguin history.
Despite primarily occupying the second-row center position for more than 15 seasons, Malkin has picked up the slack and stepped up in the moments that mattered most throughout his career. There is still more time for him to face the critics of him and prove that he is more than deserving of this place in the history of the penguin franchise.
2. sidney crosby
what can anyone say about sidney crosby that hasn’t already been said? one of the best to ever play, both on and off the ice. a mainstay of hockey. not only for the penguins, but for the city of pittsburgh since his arrival in 2005.
It has been his game over the past 15 years that has set crosby apart from so many others. Regardless of the team around him, he has led the Penguins to the playoffs for 16 straight years and led them to four cup final appearances. Three wins and Conn Smythes in a row, he has defined himself as one of the most consistent players in the history of the sport.
At the age of 35, there doesn’t seem to be any slowdown in crosby’s game. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, but the offensive mastermind will probably make this section obsolete in a matter of minutes. Right now, though, through a franchise-high 1,108 games, he has amassed 517 goals, 892 assists and 1,409 points. those scoring numbers are all the seconds in penguin history behind a single person.
Over the years, Crosby has become one of the most decorated athletes in pittsburgh sports history. he three cups, two conn smythe’s, eight times all-star, two hart’s, two art ross’ and two olympic gold medals. that only scratches the surface. the first Penguins to reach 1,000 games played and captain since 2007 help cement him as the second-greatest Penguins of all time, behind a former roommate.
1. mario lemieux
Is there even a discussion to have? The stories have been told many times, the highlights have been seen around the world, Mario Lemieux is the definition of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just another one of those stories everyone should know, he was more than a hall of famer on the ice, he was a savior off the ice.
As a player, Lemieux broke every franchise record Pittsburgh had to offer. 915 games, 690 goals, 1,033 assists, 1,723 points, 1.88 points per game and 40 hat-tricks. all but one of those stats are still franchise peaks. If Pronovost and Kehoe set the tone in Pittsburgh, Lemieux rewrote the book, adding numbers that will never be touched.
Injuries plagued Lemieux’s career, forcing him to miss a great deal of time and forcing him into early retirement in 1997 at the age of 31. he was eliminated from the traditional three-year waiting period and he was inducted into the hockey hall of fame. immediately after retirement. Not even three years later, when the organization was battling bankruptcy, Lemieux joined forces with Ron Burkle and purchased the team, saving the franchise.
a year later, despite having his number retired in pittsburgh, being enshrined in the hall of fame and owning the team, lemieux returned to the ice as a player. he does not. 66 was plucked from the rafters and became a hall of fame player/owner. Injuries followed him through his last five seasons and finally ended his playing career during the 2005-06 season.
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The Penguins may have recently been sold to the Fenway Sports Group, but Lemieux still exists as a minority owner and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. has put in the hall of fame levels of work both on and off the ice. With two cups as a player, three as an owner and multiple franchise save moments, no player in any sport has meant more to a single franchise than Lemieux has meant to the Penguins. No. 66 has the no. 1 place among the great penguins of all time, and that is something that will never change.
The penguin franchise has seen the top of the mountain. With five Stanley Cups, they know what it means to win. More than a winning team, the Penguins are an organization full of stories, both tragic and triumphant. All of the above helped in their own way to bring success to the organization and are big reasons why there is still a professional hockey team in Pittsburgh today.