Courtesy of Point Park University

Constructing Penguins’ all-time team: Forwards


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Mario Lemieux. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Picking a franchise's all-time team hardly is an original concept. It's been done countless times, and invariably generates interest and discussion among that club's fan base.

But the all-time Penguins squad that will be laid out here over three days comes with a twist: It has been assembled the way an actual team would be, rather than simply being a compilation of the most talented or productive players who've worked here.

That means there will be two scoring lines, a solid two-way No. 3 line and an energy line as the fourth unit up front. On defense, there will be two pairings with partners who have complementary styles -- one focused on offense, the other handling things in the defensive zone -- and a shutdown pairing. In goal, there will be a No. 1 and a backup, the latter of whom not only accepted being cast in that role but was effective in it.

Because of the way the team will be built, some truly gifted players will be squeezed out, guys for whom a good argument for inclusion can be made. We're operating with a 20-man limit, though, so there won't be room for everybody.

Also, what players did with the Penguins was a major factor in deciding who got spots on the roster. Hall of Fame talents who only played here for a season or two -- Bryan TrottierLuc Robitaille and Sergei Zubov, for example -- did not receive serious consideration, regardless of what they accomplished or contributed during the brief time they wore a Penguins sweater.

Finally, the makeup of the team was finalized with input from two men who have been paying close attention to the franchise almost from the moment it entered the NHL in the 1967 expansion: Longtime beat writer Bob Grove and former beat writer Tom McMillan, now the Penguins' vice president of communications.

Here are the forwards who made the final cut:

Kevin Stevens-Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr

Why them? Stevens, in his prime, was a prototypical power forward, big and strong, fast and skilled -- and he's actually the weak link in this group. Lemieux, who spent his entire career with the Penguins, was one of the great talents in NHL history and while Jagr played just a tiny fraction of his still-active career here (a mere 11 seasons), he piled up more individual awards and better offensive stats than anyone except Lemieux.

Who missed out? No one. Picking the members of the No. 1 line was, by far, the easiest decision involved with selecting this team.

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Jean Pronovost

Why them? The Penguins have had surprisingly few big-time offensive talents at left wing, so Kunitz got his spot almost by default, while Pronovost was a virtual coin-toss choice over Rick Kehoe. Crosby, who has begun to be discussed in some quarters as a top-10 player in league history, was a relatively easy call, even though the Penguins have had a number of skilled offensive centers over the years.

Who missed out? The most conspicuous absence likely is Evgeni Malkin, who might well end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday. Kehoe, as noted above, was nosed out by Pronovost. Lowell MacDonald, who worked with Pronovost and Syl Apps on the Century Line during the 1970s, had a terrific four-year run as a goal-scorer, but ultimately was betrayed by bad knees. Jake Guentzel simply hasn't been around long enough to claim a place. If his career stays on its current trajectory, though, he'll be a good bet to bump Kunitz off the team.

Bob Errey-Ron Francis-Joe Mullen

Why them? Errey was best known for his diligent defensive play, but actually averaged just over 21 goals during a four-season stretch late in his nine-plus seasons with the Penguins. Francis was among the best two-way centers of his generation, in part because of his outstanding hockey sense, and Mullen was a 500-goal man who worked as hard in his own end of the ice as he did in the attacking zone. Not coincidentally, he and Francis are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Who missed out? Pascal Dupuis' consistently strong two-way game allowed him to mount a serious challenge to Errey. Lowell MacDonald wouldn't have been out of place on this line, either, because he was reliable all over the ice.

Bob "Battleship" Kelly-Jordan Staal-Mark Recchi

Why them? In the real world, these guys would be overqualified to work on a fourth line, but all played the kind of game that could pick up their team -- or an entire crowd -- with a full-throttle forecheck or by throwing a hit that could reduce an opposing player to a stain on the boards. That they ended up on an energy line says a lot about the luxury of building a team of players from a franchise that has been around for more than five decades.

Who missed out? If Rick Tocchet had spent a few more years with the Penguins, he would have been a viable selection for the spot that Recchi filled. Just imagine the punishment a Kelly-Staal-Tocchet unit could have inflicted on opponents unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Those clubs might have needed a glacier to fulfill their post-game need for bags of ice.

Tomorrow: Defensemen

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