Nick Horwat The Hockey Writers
They Wore it Once: Penguins Players and Their Unique Numbers
In the storied history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, 724 different players have played in at least one game, and to play in the NHL you have to have a number on your sweater. Some numbers are more common than others; the No. 23 has 34 names attached to it. Some numbers, however, have only been worn by a single player.
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There are a group of numbers that have never been worn in 52 years, however. The sweater numbers 64, 69, 70, 78, 79, 80, 83, 84, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 94, 96, 97, 98, and 99 have never graced the back of a Penguin. Ninety-nine, of course, will never get that opportunity as the NHL retired Wayne Gretzky’s number league-wide in 2000.
The following numerals were only worn by one player in Penguins history. Some numbers may have been worn for a short time, while others are synonymous with the franchise and its history.
A quick note: The number 73 is in a weird position. Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson wore the number during the 2018-19 season before switching to No. 3.
Currently, 73 is being used by Pierre-Olivier Joseph in phase three training camp. At the time of writing, Johnson is the only Penguin to wear No. 73 in gameplay.
52- Rusty Fitzgerald
While Russell “Rusty” Fitzgerald wore the No. 34 in his first four NHL appearances, during the 1995-96 season, he became the first and only Penguin to wear the No. 52. That season, he played 21 games, scoring a goal and recording two assists. While that isn’t much to write home about, his lone goal that season was assisted by the future and current Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis.
One of Fitzgerald’s assists also helped record a Jagr goal a minute into a 1-0 victory against the Buffalo Sabres. The goal was also assisted by Francis, and the game drew 93 penalty minutes.
53- Teddy Blueger
The first of a handful of current Penguins who are on this list, Teddy Blueger became the first player to wear No. 53 when he debuted in early 2019. The Riga, Latvia native in just his second season, has become a fixture on one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL. As one of the best defensive forwards on the team, Blueger can play in any situation, whether it be on the penalty kill or at 5-on-5.
58- Kris Letang
One of if not the best defenseman in franchise history, Kris Letang is also the only player to wear the No. 58 in Pittsburgh. He is the first to wear the number and could be the last. There have been grumblings that when Letang hangs up his skates, the Penguins will consider retiring his No. 58.
It is hard to argue against it since Letang is the Penguins’ all-time leader in goals, assists, points, and games played by a defenseman, surpassing Paul Coffey, and he’s only 33.
60- Emil Larmi
This one is a bit peculiar. Emil Larmi suited up as a backup goalie for a game against the Montreal Canadiens this season. He was not supposed to be called up to be the second goaltender that night, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins starter Casey DeSmith couldn’t find his passport, so Larmi was given the call to travel to Montreal.
He did not have to play but became part of Penguins history as the only player to wear No. 60.
62- Carl Hagelin
The H in the ‘HBK Line’ that was made popular in Pittsburgh during the 2016 Stanley Cup run, Carl Hagelin became a fan favorite shortly after his arrival in 2016. The speedy winger is the only Penguin to wear No. 62, his number of choice. Hagelin had a respectable tenure in Pittsburgh, aside from winning two Stanley Cups, he accumulated 83 points in 195 games. In 48 postseason games in the Steel City, he recorded 21 points.
63- Tim Wallace
During the 2008-09 season, Tim Wallace made his NHL debut playing in 16 games and recording two assists with the Penguins while wearing No. 63. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Notre Dame, Wallace is one of only 13 NHL players to ever hail from the state of Alaska.
66- Mario Lemieux
That’s right, Mario Lemieux was the first and last player to wear the No. 66 with the Penguins. After being drafted in 1984, Lemieux became the second player in the NHL (after Washington Capitals’ Milan Novy) to wear No. 66, taking Gretzky’s 99 and turning it upside down. Since then, Lemieux and the No. 66 are synonymous. Lemieux is widely regarded as the greatest Penguin of all time, being the all-time leader in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, and countless other offensive stats. The Penguins added to the legend of No. 66 when they built the Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) with 66 suites.
Lemieux and the No. 66 are so synonymous that there is real debate if someone else should be allowed to wear it in the NHL.
67- Alex Goligoski
For the first three games of his career, Alex Goligoski wore the No. 67 as a Penguins’ blueliner, the first and only player to wear the number. Wearing No. 67, Goligoski picked up two assists, setting up a goal for Ryan Malone and Max Talbot in back-to-back games.
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Goligoski switched to No. 13, then to No. 3 that he wore until his departure from the team during the 2010-11 season. Goligoski was sent to the Dallas Stars in return for James Neal and Matt Niskanen.
68- Jaromir Jagr
Another number that goes hand-in-hand with the player, Jagr was drafted in 1991 and became one of the best players in the sport, scoring 1,079 of his 1,921 career points with the Penguins.
He was the first player in NHL history to pick the No. 68 and while it has been worn a handful of times since then, it will most likely never be worn in Pittsburgh again. When Jagr finally decides to retire, the Penguins want to honor his legacy and hang the No. 68 from the rafters.
74- Jay McKee
A longtime Sabre, Jay McKee wore No. 74 for most of his 802-game career, the last 62 of which were in Pittsburgh. McKee signed with the Penguins as a free agent before the 2009-10 campaign. A defensive defenseman, McKee didn’t appear on the score sheet as a point-getter, but rather as a shot blocker. In his single season with Pittsburgh, he led the team with 136 blocks.
75- Ryan Reaves
Ryan Reaves wears No. 75, just as another Pittsburgh sports legend did. Joe Greene wore No. 75 for the Steelers as part of the “Steel Curtain” that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. On arriving in Pittsburgh, Reaves was aware that the similarities between the two were more than just a number.
Greene is known as “Mean Joe,” and Reaves would have liked to see “Mean Ryan Reaves” catch on in Pittsburgh. Reaves’ time with the Penguins did not last long, however, as he was traded after 58 games. That was enough time for him to finish second on the team in penalty minutes that season with 84.
76- Richard Park
Richard Park and Jim Paek are the only NHLers to ever come from South Korea, and they were both drafted by the Penguins. Paek was with the club from 1991-1994 and Park from 1994-1997 then again in 2011-12.
Park used four different numbers during his pair of stints with the Penguins. Exactly half (56 of 112) of those games were played while wearing No. 76, the only Penguin to sport the number. It was his rookie campaign in 1995-96 when he wore the rare numeral and recorded 10 points that season with four goals. His 36 penalty minutes were a career-high.
77- Paul Coffey
One of the top blueliners of all time, Paul Coffey was traded to Pittsburgh in 1987 where he began wearing No. 77, still the only Penguin to do so. The mark Coffey left on the Penguins will not soon be forgotten. He was an integral piece in bringing a winning team to the city. He may have been hurt for half of the games, but he played a large role in bringing the first Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh in 1991. During his time, he set the standard for all future Penguins defensemen, setting every offensive record. While Letang may have taken the helm as the team’s all-time D-man, Coffey paved the way.
82- Martin Straka
Is Martin Straka the single most underrated Penguin of all time? Most would think so, and 442 points in 560 games help with that argument. No. 82 was Straka’s number of choice, as he wore it during both stints he had in Pittsburgh. He was the first, and still the only player to pick that number as a Penguin.
Straka’s importance was more than just high point totals, but also his play in the postseason. In 65 playoff games with the Penguins, he posted 46 points, including two overtime goals, one of which against the Capitals in a Game 7.
85- Petr Klima
Petr Klima was picked as the best NHL player to ever wear No. 85. He wore the number his entire career, which included a nine-game stop in Pittsburgh. Those nine games happened during the 1996-97 season when he recorded a goal and three assists. The Penguins were one of three teams Klima played for that season. He left the NHL after the 1998-99 season.
87- Sidney Crosby
He needs no introduction; another Penguin whose number is synonymous with his name. Sidney Crosby is seen as one of the most superstitious athletes in all of sport, let alone hockey. It was fate that he was born on August 7, 1987, which numerically reads 8/7/87.
The importance of the No. 87 to Crosby was emphasized in 2007 when the Penguins signed him to a contract with a cap hit of $8.7 million annually. That contract was extended at the same price in 2012 and lasts until 2025. Much like Lemieux’s 66 suites, when the Consol Energy Center was built, the Penguins included 18,087 seats.
93- Petr Nedved
What do Straka and Petr Nedved have in common? They’ve both scored big goals against the Capitals in overtime during the playoffs, and they were the only ones to wear their number in a Penguins uniform. They’ve also both scored a career total of 717 points and hail from former Czechoslovakia. Okay, the similarities are getting out of hand.
To say Nedved is only known for one goal in a Penguins uniform would be unfair. (from ‘IN FOUR OVERTIMES, THE PENS PROVE MIGHTIER,’ Washington Post, 04/25/1996) Yes, he scored in the fourth overtime against the Capitals in the playoffs in 1996, but he also put up 170 points in 154 games wearing No. 93.
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His first of two seasons with the Penguins turned out to be the best of his career. In 80 games during the 1995-96 season, he put up career-highs in goals (45), assists (54), points (99), and +/- (plus-37). He may not have been in Pittsburgh long, but he left a mark that won’t be forgotten by Penguins’ fans any time soon.
95- Aleksey Morozov
One of only 12 players to ever wear the No. 95, Aleksey Morozov is another criminally underrated all-time Penguins player. From 1997 to 2004, he played in 451 games and put up 219 points. Wearing No. 95 with the Penguins, he became a cult hero as a Devil killer, tallying 25 points in 30 career games against New Jersey.
He only played with the Penguins during his NHL career and spent the rest of his playing career in the KHL. That turned out to be a good move for him as in February 2020 he was named President of the KHL.
Some sweater numbers still need to be written into the Penguins history books, and who knows what kind of legend or short-term player will wear them?
The post They Wore it Once: Penguins Players and Their Unique Numbers appeared first on The Hockey Writers.
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