This one wasn’t as easy as plugging Jaromir Jagr on the RW as we did with the Pittsburgh Penguins All-Time Czech team. Nope, the Penguins have a history of good American players, especially when they’re successful. GM Craig Patrick stocked their first Stanley Cup teams in 1991 and 1992 with U.S. born players like Kevin Stevens, Joey Mullen, and Scott Young. Even the Penguins coach was an American legend, Badger Bob Johnson.
One position in which the Penguins are thin on Americans is in the middle. Given the Penguins top line centers in the 1990s were Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis, then their best centers for the past 15 years have been Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there hasn’t been much room for centers to spread their wings.
Another exciting debate we could have with the Penguins and Americans, primarily because long-time GM Craig Patrick was part of USA Hockey, and an assistant coach for the Miracle on Ice, 1980 US Olympic team: Who should coach the All-U.S. Penguins team? Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks?
We’ll let you chew on that one.
Pittsburgh Penguins All-American Team:
LW: Kevin Stevens.
“Artie” was the premier power forward in the NHL for several years. Before there was Keith Tkachuk, there was Stevens. He was even the better of Brendan Shanahan.
For those who remember the first seven years of Steven’s career as a Penguins forward, there was little doubt he was on the Hall of Fame track. He was the guy beside Mario Lemieux for the 1991 Stanley Cup. And he was the left-wing side of the “Pittsburgh Sky-Line” with Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, too.
Just imagine the offensive power and physical pounding dished by Stevens with a great center and Rick Tocchet on the right side. That was a reality in the 1992-93 season. Stevens suffered a horrific facial injury during the Penguins 1993 upset loss to the New York Islanders, which ended their Stanley Cup reign, and sent Stevens life on an alternate path with an addiction to prescription drugs.
In four seasons, beginning with the 1990-91 season, through 1993-94, Stevens scored 190 goals (40, 54, 55, 41). Stevens was traded to Boston as the Penguins franchise began cost-cutting measures in 1995-96. He finished his career with the Penguins in 2001-02.
Temporary 2nd Place: Jake Guentzel. The Penguins LW star will surpass Stevens in short order.
C: Nick Bonino
One of the better third-line center the Pittsburgh Penguins have had behind their star-packed top-six units was Nick Bonino. He lifted a pair of Stanley Cups with the black and gold. Bonino was forced to lift the 2017 Stanley Cup with a broken leg, which he attempted to play through but missed the last few games of the ’17 Stanley Cup final.
On paper, Bonino’s Penguins career wasn’t distinguished. He played only 143 games with the Penguins and scored only 27 goals over two seasons. However, Bonino’s playoff work will etch him in Penguins history.
Who could forget the H-B-K line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, which was a driving factor of the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup? Or the CBC’s Punjabi broadcaster shouting, “Bonino, Bonino, Booooonnniiiiiiiiinooooooo,” in 2017?
RW: Joe Mullen
“Slippery Rock Joe” was an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins 1991 Stanley Cup. The apex of Mullen’s career was the preceding five seasons in Calgary, not Pittsburgh, but he remained a lethal goalscorer. Mullen had 17 goals in 47 games during his first Penguins season (1990-91). Then he buried 113 goals in the next three seasons, including 42 goals in 1991-92.
Mullen was the first US-born player to score 500 goals and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. And he cost the Penguins only a second-round pick.
Mullen retired with the Penguins after the 1996-97 season. In his six-year Penguins career, which was separated by one year in Boston (1995-96), he notched 153 goals and 325 points in 379 games.
Honorable Mention/2nd place: Phil Kessel.
LHD Defense: Brooks Orpik
This is a toss-up. Brian Dumoulin and his all-round game, or Brooks Orpik, who defended his zone like there was gold buried behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury? Ultimately, give us one on the pairing who will rattle teeth and make opponents worry about getting comfortable. His shift in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final may be the greatest shift by a defenseman I’ve ever witnessed.
Orpik had a stellar Penguins career. He played 703 games, including one game at forward, begrudgingly, which finalized the bad relationship between Orpik and then-coach Michel Therrien.
The Penguins first-round draft choice in 2000 (18th overall). Orpik was the first pillar of the Penguins championship core. He was followed by Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, and Staal, beginning in 2003. (Colby Armstrong and Ryan Whitney were the 2001 and 2002 first-round picks).
Orpik’s 11-year Penguins career ended when it was best for him and the Penguins that he tested free agency. The rival Washington Capitals happily snatched him up with a five-year, $27.5 million contract on July 1, 2014.
2nd Place: Brian Dumoulin. Ask again in a few more years, too.
RHD: Matt Niskanen
We considered flipping Martin over to the right side for this exercise, but ultimately, we wanted a lefty and a righty. So, it was down to Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy. Niskanen rejuvenated his career in four seasons with the Penguins. Still, they also happened to be the most disappointing four years in franchise history as the Penguins championship core became soft and only reached one conference final.
In 214 games with Pittsburgh, Niskanen scored 85 points (19g, 66a) and was a prime puck mover, with Martin. Like Orpik, Niskanen departed the Penguins for much greener pastures in Washington, on July 1, 2015. Niskanen inked a seven-year, $40.250 million contract.
Future Consideration: John Marino
Goalie: Tom Barrasso
The prickly two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie was one of the best of his era. Barrasso was the first American goalie to win 300 games and signed a contract in 2003 to retire as a Penguin.
Barrasso’s numbers don’t leap off the page, especially in this era, but his numbers for the offensive, less structured age were top-shelf. Barrasso was 226-153-54 in parts of 12 seasons with the Penguins. His Penguins playoff resume includes the pair of Stanley Cups and a 56-42 record, with a .907 save percentage.
Barrasso finished second in Vezina Trophy voting in 1992-93. He may not have the warmest reputation, but few others stopped as many pucks. Barrasso didn’t exactly play for a defensively responsible troop in Pittsburgh.
There is a strong case that Barrasso should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame,
Coach: Bob Johnson
The Pittsburgh Penguins won five Stanley Cups and only one without an American coach. Bob Johnson won one. Dan Bylsma won one. And Mike Sullivan has a pair of sparkly rings after hoisting the Cup.
We gave the nod to Badger Bob because it was his team that won the 1992 Stanley Cup, too. No less than the head coach of the 1992 team, Scotty Bowman said so. Johnson was a legend in hockey circles. He was a professor of the game and helped change the Mario Lemieux led Penguins from an offensive circus to a champion.
Herb Brooks also deserves consideration in the discussion, too. Brooks’ NHL resume wasn’t as grand as Johnson, who also won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989, but Brooks changed American hockey forever.
In a few more years, with more success, Sullivan may also find himself discussed in legendary terms. He’s off to a good start, the second time around.