Courtesy of Point Park University

Ranking all-time best Ukrainian Penguins

This article is the fifth in a series ranking all Penguins throughout history from different countries. Some lists will rank just the top 10, due to the number of players from those countries. Today, we continue by ranking all Penguins players from Ukraine.

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There have been two Ukrainian players to suit up for the Penguins in their history — two forwards. That's it. That's not much of a list and there's no debate on the order, but I'm a completionist and each country with multiple players gets an article, so here we are.

Let’s see how the Ukrainian Penguins rank, not necessarily in terms of overall skill, but more so by their impact on the Penguins during their time in Pittsburgh.

2. ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY,
Forward

The Penguins acquired 29-year-old Ponikarovsky from the Maple Leafs on March 2, 2010, in exchange for Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula. At the time, Ponikarovsky was in his ninth professional season in North America, all of which had been spent in the Maple Leafs organization.

"I didn't think this was a deal we'd be able to do," Ray Shero said. "If you'd have told me we could do it a few days ago, I'd have said, 'No way.'"

Ponikarovsky played in 16 games in the remainder of the regular season, scoring two goals and seven assists. He primarily played on a line with Evgeni Malkin and fellow Ukrainian Ruslan Fedotenko.

Ponikarovsky appeared in 11 playoff games that season as the Penguins were eliminated by the Canadiens in seven games in the second round. He scored one goal and four assists, including the primary assist on Jordan Staal's second-period goal in Game 7 that ended up being the final goal ever scored in the Civic Arena.

Ponikarovsky signed with the Kings in the offseason, where he spent the entire 2010-11 season. He signed with the Hurricanes in 2011, then was traded to the Devils that January. He signed with the Jets in 2012, then was traded back to the Devils after only 12 games, where he finished his NHL career.

Ponikarovsky signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in 2013, and spent three seasons there, winning the championship Gagarin Cup in 2015. He moved to the KHL's Chinese team, the Kunlun Red Star, in 2016. He played two seasons in China, captaining the Red Star in his final season and retired from professional hockey in 2018.

1. RUSLAN FEDOTENKO
Forward

The Penguins signed Fedotenko as a free agent in the 2008 offseason, and his impact on their 2009 Stanley Cup run was big.

Dan Bylsma used to write "RFH" on the locker room whiteboards before games, as he discussed in the book "Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey's Greatest Coaches" written by Craig Custance.

It stood for "Ruslan Fedotenko Hockey," and it was the way Bylsma wanted his team to play during that run.

"Grind down, play in the offensive zone," Bylsma told Custance when asked to define Ruslan Fedotenko hockey. "Wave after wave, not paying attention to the score. Nothing is going to stop us from coming at you. Playing fast, aggressive. Playing in the offensive zone. Being hard to play against. Ruslan Fedotenko hockey."

Fedotenko spent that 2008-09 season primarily on the second line alongside Malkin and Petr Sykora, and put up 16 goals and 23 assists in 65 games to finish fifth on the team in scoring during the regular season. He played in all 24 games that postseason, finishing fourth in team scoring with seven goals and seven assists. It was his second Stanley Cup win, after previously winning in 2004 with the Lightning.

Fedotenko re-signed with the Penguins the following season and was again on Malkin's wing. He scored 11 goals and 19 assists in 80 games. He was a healthy scratch for much of the playoffs, and was scoreless in the six games he played.

The Penguins didn't re-sign Fedotenko in 2010, and he spent the next two seasons with the Rangers. He captained the Ukrainian KHL team Donbass Donetsk during the 2012 lockout, and joined the Flyers after the lockout ended. He returned to Donetsk on a three-year contract in 2013-14, where he was again the captain. The Donetsk arena was destroyed in May 2014 during a wave of violence in Ukraine, and the team suspended operations.

After starting the 2014-15 season without a contract, Fedotenko signed an AHL-level tryout contract with the Iowa Wild. He played in 13 games with Iowa, scoring 13 goals. He signed an NHL contract with Minnesota the following summer, and played 16 games with Iowa and recorded four assists. He announced his retirement in October 2016.

"As I reflect on my career, I realize how truly fortunate I have been to play the game I love at the highest level, to have won the Stanley Cup, not once, but twice, and to have made countless lifelong friendships along the way," said Fedotenko. "I am retiring as a truly grateful man."

Now 40 years old, Fedotenko lives in Tampa with his wife and three stepsons.

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