Last Word On Hockey brings our Team of the Decade series. We will dive into the best player at each position this decade for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Pittsburgh Penguins decade lineup.
Pittsburgh Penguins Decade Team
Left Wing: Chris Kunitz
This was easily the most difficult decision for the Pittsburgh Penguins decade list. However, Chris Kunitz was a Pittsburgh staple for so many years during this decade. He had his best seasons next to Sidney Crosby and you could always count on him to score in a big moment. This was evident in a monstrous way in game seven against the Ottawa Senators in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. This goal is arguably one of the three biggest goals ever scored in Penguins history:
He also scored this big overtime goal in 2013 against the New York Islanders:
Throughout his career with Pittsburgh, he had four straight seasons with at least 22 goals. His best season came in 2013-2014 when he 35 goals and 68 points for the Penguins, all career highs. Overall, in nine seasons with the Penguins, he had 169 goals and 388 points in 519 games. Kunitz did his most damage at even-strength as 115 of his 169 goals in a Penguin uniform came at even-strength. There was never anything super flashy about his game, either. Pittsburgh only had to deal Ryan Whitney to get him in early 2009 and it ended up being one of the best moves they ever made.
Center: Sidney Crosby
You had to know this was coming, right? On any other team just about, this would, of course, be Evgeni Malkin but Crosby understandably takes this spot. Crosby is one of the best players of all-time and certainly has given everything to the Penguins and more. Throughout this decade, no one was more dominant on the ice. Besides getting to three Stanley Cups, he also won back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies, which is something that only 3 other players have done.
Those 3 players are Bernie Parent, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretzky. We only can dream when thinking about how much more production he would have if he didn’t miss over a full season due to concussion issues. Even with that, he still has made people’s jaw drop plenty, including this moment at the start of the last decade:
He’s still doing this kind of stuff with aplomb 10 years later as well:
Crosby has also been able to make himself known as one of the better two-way players in the game as well. In the last three years, he’s been able to place himself in the top ten of the Selke Trophy voting, including last year where he got fourth. His 1,263 points rank him 39th all-time in NHL history and there’s many more to come as he continues to make his legacy with the Penguins.
Right Wing: Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel was everything the Penguins needed when they got him, and more. Before acquiring Kessel, Pittsburgh didn’t have that big-time right-winger who was a pure goal scorer. He ended up doing his job and then some for the four years that he was a Penguin. Kessel was a point per player in two of those seasons(including his 92 point campaign during the 2017-2018 season).
He also potted 23 or more goals in all four seasons that he was there. It didn’t really matter which line he was on as he and Malkin did plenty of damage together, but he perhaps did his best damage on the famous “HBK line.” That line came together during the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup run and Kessel was just on a whole other level that playoff run. His 10 goals and 22 points in 24 playoff games easily could’ve made him the Conn Smythe winner when it was all set and done. He was able to get two humongous goals in the series clincher against the Capitals, with one of them here:
Kessel was just a born playoff producer with 20 goals and 56 points in 65 playoff games with the Penguins. His wrist shot was (and still is) filthy as he can score all sorts of goals with it. Throughout his four seasons, he amassed 110 goals and 303 points in 328 games with Pittsburgh. Kessel came to Pittsburgh to help push them to the top again, and he did that while becoming a Pittsburgh legend among the way.
Left Defence: Brian Dumoulin
When Brian Dumoulin first stepped onto the ice for a taste of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, no one could’ve predicted this was how his career would go. He was one of the best players for the Penguins in that series and his game has only gotten better. His work in the defensive zone is by far his best attribute. He can go toe-to-toe against the best players in the league and get the puck out of trouble while making it look so easy. His skating is also just top-notch as well. Did we forget that he does bring some offence to the table too?
He resembles former Penguin Paul Martin in so many ways, but none other in that he’s the perfect partner for Kris Letang. They mesh so well together as they always know where each other are and he can cover for mistakes that Letang sometimes does make. Dumoulin is, at times, forgotten around the hockey world as a great shutdown defenceman and he’s only getting better.
Right Defence: Kris Letang
This also wasn’t a question as Letang is the best defenceman in franchise history. People will point to Paul Coffey, but he didn’t even play in Pittsburgh for five whole seasons. Letang has been the franchise defenceman that the Penguins hoped they got in him when he was drafted. He has five seasons of 50 or more points, plus a Norris finalist sprinkled in there too. Letang can make some bone-headed decisions at times, but he always makes up for it with his offensive display. The best example of the latter was when he had the game of his life in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final:
Everything he does in that sequence just isn’t fair. He’s still doing this kind of stuff this past season as well:
No one should sleep on his defensive work or skating either. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and because of that, he’s able to break-up scoring chances in key situations. It’s a shame that injuries have robbed him plenty of times in his career, especially in years where he was almost a point per game player. Letang’s 537 points in 808 games played as a Penguin puts him solely in the lead for the most points by a defenceman in franchise history. That record will be standing for many more years to come as well.
Goaltender: Matt Murray
This is going to rub some people the wrong way but Matt Murray was the better goaltender throughout this decade. Marc-Andre Fleury had some of his worst seasons from 2010-2013 in the playoffs as the Penguins could just never rely on him. Fleury will still never be discounted for what he did in his time as a Penguin though, as he’s the best goaltender in franchise history.
But going back to Murray, when he came up during the 2015-2016 season, it was curtains. Murray took the league by storm with a .930 save percentage in 13 regular-season games that year. He then backstopped the Penguins to his first of two Stanley Cups with a .923 save percentage in 2016. Here’s a look at some of his handiwork from that run:
Obviously, he didn’t stop there as he dominated in the playoffs again the next season with a .937 save percentage. He did it only in 11 games since he was injured during the first half when Fleury was doing very well. His numbers have come down a bit since then but he’s still making incredible saves at some big moments.
It remains to be seen how much more Murray plays in a Penguin uniform with his contract situation coming up and the emergence of Tristan Jarry. With that said, Murray was a rock this decade and the Penguins don’t win those two cups without his calm and collected presence in net.
Evgeni Malkin – As it says earlier in the article, for almost any other team, Malkin would be on this. Malkin was one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of this decade. His points per game in the playoffs and the regular season are top 5 for his era. When he’s on, no player can stop him.
Jake Guentzel – If he came into the league just a tad sooner, he might have been on this list over Kunitz. The next time this kind of article happens though, he’s 100% on it with the production he’s put up so far.
James Neal – He was only with the Penguins for a few seasons but he had a 40 goal season. He also a couple of other 20 goal seasons. Neal was a great fit with Malkin on his line before he was ultimately traded for the player who’s up next.
Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist is everything the Penguins wanted and more when they traded for him. Four straight 20 goal seasons with 50 or more points in two of them is amazing production. The other two in that stretch, he had 44 and 49 points respectively.
Marc-Andre Fleury – He was always a steady goaltender with Pittsburgh but those bad years in the playoffs doomed him. He’s still always going to be a fan favourite and the best goaltender in Penguin history, but Murray was able to one-up him.