There are 29 other franchises in the NHL which look at the Pittsburgh Penguins with envy. No team beyond the Original Six has won more Stanley Cups (5), and the Penguins have boasted the greatest player in the game for most of the last 40 years. Only the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid, and their five Stanley Cups can compare.
The Penguins have built a culture on extraordinary skill. Players around the league who want to show their offensive chops still want to come to Pittsburgh. However, the Penguins didn’t win five Cups only because of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.
No, the Pittsburgh Penguins have hoisted Stanley Cups because handfuls of underrated players filled the gritty, much less-heralded roles. They are the players who may be footnotes in barstool stories. They are the most underrated Penguins of all-time.
The criteria are subjective and impossible to quantify, but we attempted to list the five players who just didn’t get the respect or recognition they deserved.
Underrated Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins fans are familiar with the debate. Simon creates offense. He creates chances. And he almost supernaturally has few points to show for his efforts. Simon played a couple of games in 2016 and a few more in 2017 before he finally stuck in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup in 2017-18. Simon only played in eight playoff games in 2018 but played in 33 regular-season games.
In his rookie year, he scored 12 points (4g, 8a) in 33 games. The 2018-19 season was his first full campaign in the NHL. The 25-year-old Czech native may never become a star, but he’s earned props from teammates and coaches alike for his hockey IQ, his puck retrieval skills, and creativity.
4. Hal Gill
The big 6-foot-7 defenseman wasn’t exactly swift or agile. Ok, he could be downright lumbering and Penguins fans accustomed to the zippy, offensive defensemen didn’t know what to make of the net clearing, 250-pound defenseman.
Gill was an integral piece of the Penguins 2008 Eastern Conference Championship and their 2009 Stanley Cup. He kept the lanes in front of Marc-Andre Fleury clear and the puck out of the net. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t re-sign Gill after the Stanley Cup, which was a move that haunted the Penguins.
As a member of the Montreal Canadiens, Gill shutdown and absolutely tortured Evgeni Malkin in their 2010 Round Two matchup, which ended the Penguins quest for repeat Stanley Cups victories.
Gill only spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins, played only 80 games, and scored 14 points (3g, 11a), but his towering figure and big personality helped Sidney Crosby become the youngest captain to win Lord Stanley’s prize.
3. Shawn McEachern
The speedy forward was the Penguins sixth-round pick in 1987, while still in high school. McEachern chose to play at Boston University, and after three years of NCAA hockey, McEachern hit the NHL at the right time. He splashed as a rookie in the midst of the Penguins 1992 Stanley Cup run. He had four assists in 15 regular-season games, then had nine points (2g, 7a) in 19 playoff games.
McEachern had a 14-year NHL career, including a two-year captaincy of the Atlanta Thrashers from 2002-04. He spent four years with the Penguins and scored 53 goals in 170 games.
However, his biggest goal may have been his second in a Penguins uniform. McEachern tied Game 1 of the Wales Conference Final with a late third period goal. Jaromir Jagr scored the game-winner in OT, and the Penguins swept Boston en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
2. Bob Errey
Every team needs a blood and guts type player. Heart. Leadership. Speed. Determination. Errey scored 20-goals in three straight seasons. However, those markers weren’t all from Mario.
Errey scored 20 goals in 1989-90 when Lemieux played only 59 games, and Errey again accomplished the feat in 1990-91 when Lemieux played only 26 games. Errey’s gritty determination was part of the Penguins championship core. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence the Penguins three-peat bid ended in 1993 after GM Craig Patrick traded Errey for stay-at-home defenseman Mike Ramsey.
1. Brian Dumoulin
If one wonders if it is hard to play with Pittsburgh Penguins top defenseman Kris Letang, see January and part of February 2020, when the Penguins pressed Jack Johnson into that spot while Dumoulin was injured.
Dumoulin was part of the Penguins 2012 trade in which the Penguins sent Jordan Staal to Carolina in exchange for the eighth overall pick (Derrick Pouliot), Brandon Sutter, and Dumoulin.
Dumoulin, 28, played three seasons at Boston College before he signed his ELC with Carolina in 2012. He spent nearly two full seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL before playing six NHL games in December 2013. Then eight more the following season, but spent most of four years in the AHL before he cracked the Penguins lineup in 2015-16.
Dumoulin has become the Penguins top left-side defenseman. At 6-foot-3, nearly 210 pounds, Dumoulin is an agile stay-home defenseman. He teams well with Letang to create a dynamic top pairing.
In seven seasons, Dumoulin has played 347 NHL games with 82 points (11g, 71a). His name is not mentioned among the top defensemen in the NHL, but the coaches and teammates do not overlook his contributions to the Penguins.
He has three more seasons remaining on his six-year, $24.6 million deal.
Honorable Mentions: Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Troy Loney, Jim Paek, and Alex Goligoski