Courtesy of Point Park University

Constructing Penguins’ all-time team: Defensemen

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Kris Letang. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The most accomplished forwards in Penguins history -- Mario LemieuxSidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Evgeni Malkin, for starters -- have tended to be homegrown. Players who were drafted into the organization and did their finest work, if not all of it, while working here.

Oh, some outstanding centers and wingers who've played for the Penguins got their starts elsewhere -- Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, Jean Pronovost, Rick Kehoe and Chris Kunitz come immediately to mind -- but the best of their best up front generally have made their pro debuts here.

That often isn't the case with their finest defensemen, though. Most of those joined the organization via trades, and one actually was brought in via a long-gone relic known as the intra-league draft.

Thanks to those acquisitions, the defense corps assembled for the Penguins' all-time team is a pretty formidable group. In keeping with the idea that this team is supposed to be built like one that would be put together in a real-life setting, it features two pairings that balance offense and defense and one shutdown tandem to go against opponents' best offensive lines.

The length of time defensemen were with the organization -- and how they performed during that span -- was factored in roster selections, which were finalized with input from two former beat writers who are longtime observers of the franchise, Tom McMillan and Bob Grove.

NO. 1 PAIRING
Paul Coffey-Larry Murphy

Why them? Coffey was, to be charitable, an adventure anytime he was forced to play in his own end, but that didn't happen very often because he was one of the great skaters in NHL history and an offensive force with few peers at his position. And while Murphy had some pretty fair offensive skills himself -- he piled up 1,217 points in 1,615 regular-season games -- he didn't have a spectacular corpuscle in his body and played the kind of responsible two-way game that made him the ideal complement to Coffey. That Murphy was a right-handed shot (Coffey was a lefty) cemented that he was the correct choice for this role.

Who missed out? If the idea had been to give Coffey a partner who focused solely on playing defense, Dave Burrows would have been a worthy contender. It didn't seem reasonable, though, to hold Murphy's offensive abilities against him.

NO. 2 PAIRING
Dave Burrows-Kris Letang

Why them? Burrows, claimed from Chicago's farm team in Dallas during the intra-league draft in 1971, was a frequent and fearless shot-blocker who specialized in playing well in the defensive zone. That's precisely the kind of partner Letang needs to be able to exploit his considerable offensive talents and aggressively get involved in the attack. And as with the Coffey-Murphy pairing, this is a lefty-righty tandem, so both could be deployed on the side where they are most comfortable.

Who missed out? Randy Carlyle, the only Norris Trophy winner in franchise history, and Sergei Gonchar were contenders for the spot Letang got, while Brooks Orpik and Ulf Samuelsson got long looks for the niche that Burrows filled.

SHUTDOWN PAIRING
Ulf Samuelsson-Brooks Orpik

Why them? Both built their games around being responsible in the defensive zone, and both routinely delivered punishing hits. (Not surprisingly, both -- especially Samuelsson -- were accused of operating outside the rulebook at times.) Venturing into the Penguins' end generally wasn't a fun experience when either of them was on the ice.

Who missed out? Brian Dumoulin's performance as Letang's partner has been irrefutable evidence of his defensive ability. He's a capable shot-blocker who, despite his willingness to play the body, is much more likely to kill penalties than to commit them.

Tomorrow: Goaltenders

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