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(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
Canada: Sidney Crosby by @ChicksDigHockey
The best hockey player from Canada on the Pittsburgh Penguins just happens to be the best hockey player in the world.
By all accounts, Sidney Crosby has had a life-long love affair with hockey. Stories abound of Sidney as young as age two being able to hold a stick properly while hitting a tennis ball. At age ten he scored an incredible 159 goals in 55 games playing hockey in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. He had a season point total of 280 points. While at Shattuck- Saint Mary’s Prep School in Minnesota, Sidney set new scoring records by getting 72 goals and 110 assists for a total of 182 points in just 57 games. He was also the only player under the age of eighteen to play in the Canadian Junior Hockey tournament and the youngest to ever score a goal in the championship. By the 2004-2005 season, Crosby was considered the best hockey prospect in the world.
Crosby was famously drafted first in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Penguins . He finished his rookie season with 102 points, which included 39 goals and 63 assists. Crosby became the youngest player in the National Hockey League to score 100 points in a single season. Crosby was also the first NHL rookie to record over 100 points and 100 penalty minutes in a season. Since the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to make the playoffs that season, Crosby was able to represent Team Canada at the World Championships, where he became the youngest player ever to win a World Championship title. He recorded a tournament-best eight goals and eight assists in nine games.
His list of awards is too numerous to detail but include: Art Ross Trophy 2007, Lester B. Pearson Award/Ted Lindsay Award 2007 & 2013, Hart Memorial Trophy 2007, Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy 2010, Mark Messier Leadership Award 2007 and 2010, and the Stanley Cup 2009. Sidney has been a star on the international stage as well. Crosby scored the winning goal in overtime against the United States in the Olympic gold medal game in 2010.
During the 2007 season, the Penguins offered Sidney Crosby the captaincy but he turned it down. His explanation:
"I just thought it wasn't right for me. As a team, we were playing great and you don't want to disrupt things like that. Individually, I was not ready to accept that responsibility quite yet. Going through the playoffs and having that experience has probably given me more confidence.”
On May 31, 2007, after experiencing playoff hockey, Sidney Crosby was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins making him (at 19 years, 9 months, and 24 days) the youngest team captain in NHL history.
Crosby is a poised captain who is an articulate spokesman not only for the Pens but all of hockey. He has suffered 2 major injuries in the past two seasons but faced each recovery with drive and determination to return to his place at the front of the pack. His mental toughness is surpassed only by hockey aptitude. He sees the ice and understands the ins and outs of the game like no other. He has otherworldly puck handling skills and can score from anywhere on the ice including while lying on his back. He has that rare ability to let the flow of the game determine his next move. He elevates the game of anyone lucky enough to play on his line as evidenced by the remarkable 2013 season of Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.
Sid is very community-minded and philanthropic. Crosby and the Pens sponsor Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins. One thousand kids, aged 4 to 8, have every season for the past four years received full hockey equipment paid for by the Pittsburgh Penguins, their 25-year-old captain and several sponsors. He also established the Sidney Crosby Foundation. The Foundation, created in his home province of Nova Scotia in 2009, is committed to providing financial support to charities that are beneficial to the community as a whole, specifically charities benefitting children.
In order to be known as the greatest hockey player not only do you need to have the skills to dominate on the ice but be a great leader as well. Sidney Crosby more than fills the bill.
Much like the Penguins themselves, we at PensInitiative.com are a team from other reaches of life, both person and parody, brought together to form a bigger and greater team. Each member took one country and gave their opinion on who is the best and why they are the best.
French Canada: Mario Lemieux by @ChrisRBarron
There was a lot of internal debate among our group of Pens fans about whether to do just one entry for Canada or to split the country in two: French Canada and then the rest of Canada.
Quite frankly, splitting them into two makes sense because they are fundamentally different cultures, with different languages and different traditions. There have always been a number of great French Canadians on the Pens roster. One need look no further than the current roster that includes Marc Andre-Fleury, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Simon Despres for proof of that. And while the current roster and roster of years past has always been littered with French Canadian players, there is really only one: Le Magnifique - Mario Lemieux.
Mario is not only the greatest French Canadian to ever don a Pens sweater, he is also the greatest player - regardless of birthplace - to skate for the Penguins.
Indeed, an argument can be made - and I have made it before - that Lemieux is the greatest hockey player of all time. His stats speak for themselves: 690 career goals (9th all time) and 1033 career assists (10th all time) for a total of 1,729 career points (7th all time). Even more amazing, Lemieux racked up those career numbers despite missing 3 full seasons at the height of his career and portions of several more to back injuries and lymphoma. He won two Stanley Cups (as a player + one as an owner), three Hart Trophies, four Ross Trophies and two Conn Smythe Trophies.
Not only did Lemieux put Pittsburgh on the hockey map during his time on the ice, he also saved the franchise as part of owner of the team helping to negotiate the deal that led to the building of Consol Energy Center.
United States of America: Kevin Stevens by @ExcitedBobErrey
Discussing the best American player in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins starts and ends with one name: Kevin Stevens. He currently ranks 5th in franchise history in goals scored (260) and 7th in points (555), while also being the franchise leader in PIMs (1,048). In addition to his place in team history, Stevens had one of the most productive 2 year stretches ever by an American-born player, scoring 54 goals and 123 points during the 1991-92 season and following that up with a 55 goal, 111 point campaign the next year. The goal totals remain the 1st and 2nd highest single season totals by an American player, while the point totals are 2nd and 3rd behind only Pat Lafontaine’s 149 points in 1992-93.
Stevens also played a big role in helping the Penguins to back to back Stanley Cup championships, scoring 61 points over 45 games in the 1991 and 1992 playoffs. A late start to his career and a physical style of play limited his career longevity, but Kevin Stevens still managed 726 points over the course of 874 NHL games, including 106 points in 103 career postseason games. While his numbers are some of the best in franchise history, it’s the greatness Stevens displayed while playing for the team in the early 1990s, along with being a major contributor on two Stanley Cup winning teams, that cements his place as the best American player in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
Russia: Evgeni Malkin by @Nick422
Though not a deep or long history, the Penguins have had some incredibly talented and notable Russian players flit in and out of their line up over the past 20 years when the influx of Russian talent finally truly hit the NHL: Alexei Kovalev, your enigmatic ways and moonwalking captured the hearts of many a Penguins fan. Sergei Gonchar, you put the biggest exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career winning a Stanley Cup and being amazing. Alexander Pechurskiy… you were a Penguin. All of you are notable, but none of you are Evgeni Malkin.
No matter the outcome of the 2004 Draft Lottery the Penguins see their Russian pick on this list. In some bizarro alternate universe where all men have mustaches, people wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people, Alex Ovechkin tops this list. Instead it’s Conn Smythe winner, two time MVP and scoring champion Malkin.
Though his entrance into the league took time, first extraditing himself from Russia two years after his draft and then John LeClaire’s accidentally taking out his shoulder, Malkin made a quick impact scoring a goal in his first six games. Showing flashes of his boss Mario Lemieux, Malkin’s number will no doubt hang from the rafters of Consol when all is done. At only 26 Malkin’s numbers are impressive with 217 goals, 343 assists for 560 points in only 458 NHL games. Perhaps a decade left in his career (at least eight left in Pittsburgh) and he already ranks highly amongst the Penguins all time leaders in points: 7th all time in goals scored, 8th all time in assists, and 8th all time in points.
Evgeni Malkin, the best Russian born player in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
Sorry Aleksey Morozov, you left too soon.
Czech Republic: Jaromir Jagr by @MadChad412
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been lucky enough to employ some of the finest players from the Czech Republic in NHL history. In fact, the Pens have had five of the top eight all-time NHL scoring Czech players in NHL play for their franchise. Players such as Petr Nedved, Martin Straka, Robert Lang, and Petr Sykora, and even Michal Rozsival, who also had a pretty good stint with the Pens.
On top of that, the Pens had the pleasure of employing the greatest player from the modern-day Czech Republic in NHL history, the tantalizing Jaromir Jagr. Jagr captivated the eyes and hearts of Pens' fans for over a decade with memorizing play, helping the Pens win two Stanley Cups. Over the course of Jagr's tenure with the Pens, he won four scoring titles in a row, the Lester B. Pearson Award ,and won a Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player (1999).
Jagr's superstardom in Pittsburgh was second only to Mario Lemieux, who is the only one that scored more points than Jagr in a Pens' sweater to date. Jagr is currently the eighth all-time scorer in NHL history, and leads all Czech Republic players in points all-time.
Unfortunately, Jagr's time with the Pens came to a nasty end when he demanded to be traded in 2001. Since then Jagr has now been employed with six different teams, including the Pens' arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Before signing with the Flyers, Jagr said publicly that he was "dying alive" to play for the Pens again.
That caused a "Jagr Watch" on the internet, having everyone believe the Jagr was coming back to the Pens, only to sign with the Flyers. Jagr's history in Pittsburgh is filled with amazing memories and accomplishments, matched only by a bad taste left by his actions off the ice. Still by far the greatest Czech player not only the history of the Penguins, but the entire NHL.
Sweden: Markus Naslund by @ToonsBrian
While he may be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ biggest fish story, Markus Naslund is still, hands down, the greatest Swede to have donned a Pens sweater. Drafted in the first round by the Pens, as the 16th overall pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, Naslund joined the team for the 1993-94 campaign. Over the next three seasons, he used his smooth skating and a wicked wrister to score 67 points in 151 games (25 G, 42 A) before being sent to the Vancouver Canucks in one of the most lopsided deals in league history, netting the black and gold only F Alek Stojanov.
Stojanov would only score 2 goals and 4 assists for the Pens while Naslund went on to become an 8-year Captain for the Canucks and later close out his 1117 game NHL career with the Rangers. His leadership, skill set and production have contributed to his being considered one of the top ten Swedish born players ever in the NHL, let alone to play in the Steel City.
Slovakia: Marian Hossa by @Evil_Shero
The list of great Slovakian players is long and profound and the Penguins were lucky enough to have 3 of the top 10 all-time Slovakian players to wear the black and gold. The task was to find the best Slovakian player to ever don the Pittsburgh crest and I considered a few players before making my decision.
Miroslav Satan who won a Cup with the Penguins in 2009 is the 5th highest scoring Slovakian player of all-time but his regular season with the team was unremarkable, to say the least. Not far behind was the enigmatic Ziggy Palffy, who scored at a point-per-game pace before his sudden retirement in 2006. Both players are arguably some of the best Slovakia had to offer but my pick had to be Marian Hossa.
Hossa's time with the Penguins was short and could be considered controversial but he is without a doubt one of the most gifted players to pass through the 412 area code.
Hossa's arrival was the final transition for the Penguins from "young upstart team" to "Cup contenders" as they battled to the Stanley Cup Final with Hossa's 26 points in 20 games leading the team with 12 goals in the post-season.
Hossa's departure was not ideal from Pittsburgh but he matured into one of the most complete players in the NHL winning two Cups with the Blackhawks. Hossa is now only behind the legendary Peter Stastny in all -time scoring from the Slovakian nation cementing his legacy not only for his country but for the entire NHL.
Finland: Jussi Jokinen by @KyleFourTwoOne
To be perfectly honest, It did not take long to dissect the heaps of Finnish Hockey Legends that laced 'em up for the Pittsburgh Penguins, mostly because the heap never really existed. What I was looking for more than anything while strolling through the forest filled with forgettable puck handlers and less than spectacular defensemen, was someone that brought something a little more specific to the team.
After sifting through familiar names like Ville Siren, Jarkko Ruutu, and Peter Ahola, I found the Shootout Goal, and 10 feet behind it pumping his stick in the air was Jussi Jokinen. Although he has a limited, albeit an impressive number of games played with the Penguins (7 Goals and 4 Assists in 10 Regular Season games played), we know what makes Jussi special to the teams he plays for.
Jokinen holds the record for all-time shootout goals with 28, nine of which he scored on his first nine attempts. His laser-guided shot accuracy coupled with his faceoff prowess makes him the deadliest Finn to grace the ice in the Steel City, and the hero of many a regular-season game that couldn't quite be decided in regulation.
Korea: Jim Paek/Richard Park by @Nick422
The great nation of Korea (South) has given us two different NHLers and both were drafted and played for the Penguins. Each have a different claim to fame. For this, Richard Park and Jim Paek are the best Korean born Penguins.
Jim Paek was the very first Korean born NHLer to take the ice. Drafted by the Pens 170th overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Paek made his debut in 1990. He went on to play until 1994 for the Penguins before being traded. Most importantly he was a part of two Cup champions, making him the first (and only) Korean born player to have his name etched on to Lord Stanley.
Richard Park may not have his name on the Stanley Cup but he had a longer and more illustrious NHL career. The 50th overall pick in the 1994 Draft, Park played for six different NHL teams including two stops with the Penguins.
Neither were All Stars or hockey gods but both were notable for their country and for their contributions. Jim Paek and Richard Park, the best Korean born Pittsburgh Penguins.
Brunei: Craig Adams by @ChicksDigHockey
The Pittsburgh Penguins are proud to employ Craig Adams, the greatest Bruneian-born hockey player in the NHL. Scratch that…..in the world (read in Austin Power’s voice). The current Penguin center was born in Seria, Brunei on the Island of Borneo in Southeast Asia while his father was on business with Shell Oil. Ironically, there are no other NHL players born in Brunei. He was raised in Calgary, Alberta.
Adams also boasts the distinction of being the last player ever drafted by the Hartford Whalers. He went in the 9th round, 223rd overall, in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft after his freshman season at Harvard University. He has hoisted the Stanley cup twice; once with the Hurricanes in 2006 and again with the Penguins in 2009.
At 6’ 200 lb., Adams has proven himself versatile on the 4th line able to contribute at center as well as right wing. He isn’t known as a prolific goal scorer but Adams has proven himself as an aggressive penalty killer and fearless scrapper.
On July 5, 2013, Adams was re-signed again to a two-year contract and will likely retire a Penguin.