As a fan of the NHL, there are always players that we will come across that have never played for our favorite team but strikes a chord with us. Sometimes it is that we are a fan of their style of play, other times it is that we respect them for what they have accomplished in their career and then there are times that we can not find a logical reason at all why we enjoy watching that player. I have decided to look at players I like that have never played for The Penguins and have divided them into 2 eras. “The Lemieux Era” which would have players that played during the time that Mario did and “The Crosby Era” which we are currently in.
THE LEMIEUX ERA
I was a fan of this man from the moment that he broke into the NHL with the San Jose Sharks. It was a combination of different factors though that caught my eye about Arturs Irbe. The first thing was that I owned that exact same Jofa helmet when I was a playing road hockey and loved the way that Irbe played the game. No style, no form but just a desire to stop the puck however he could. He was very similar to Dominick Hasek in that he was always sprawling to corral loose pucks. Irbe played on a terrible team in San Jose and was responsible for the Sharks upsetting the Red Wings in the play offs.
Where Irbe was very much a loose canon style wise in the crease, Kirk McLean was a stereotypical stand up goalie. McLean played on some very good Vancouver Canucks teams and lead them to the Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers but never fully received the appreciation he deserved. He was an All-Star and gave the Canucks a chance to win every game that he played. The calm and collected presence he brought to the team, with his non-flashy stand up style made him a favorite of mine.
Maybe it was that he is from my home province of Noa Scotia, or that he was a right handed shooting defenceman which was quite hard to come by in his era or maybe it was his 100+ mph slap shot that had players shaking in their boots but I loved watching Al MacInnis patrol the point for the Calgary Flames in his prime. I have never witnessed a player unload such a heavy and hard shot from such a wiry frame. I still remember MacInnis shattering opposing players shin guards and denting Tommy Soderstrom’s wire cage.
I have never been a huge fan of The Boston Bruins but I will say that I respect the hell out of Raymond Bourque. If I had to find two words to describe the Hall Of Fame defenceman they would be: steady and consistent. He never put up the single season point totals like Paul Coffey but there are very few defencemen who played both ends fo the rink at such a high level for such a long period of time. Bourque was also the player that I thought of as a prototypical captain for an NHL club. I know Mark Messier gets all the “leadership” kudos but Bourque was at the same level.
When I was growing up, Mario Lemieux was my favorite player and he still is but Steve Yzerman was my second favorite player of his era. The man was named captain of the legendary Detroit Red Wings at a young age, scored 155 points in a single season, consistently was an elite forward in the game and later in his career developed into an elite two way forward that set the mold for Pavel Datsyuk and Hennrik Zetterberg to follow. I was extremely happy to see Stevie Y win the Stanley Cup as he, like Mario Lemieux, had heard up to that point that they were not winners. Yzerman proved them wrong.
Never has a player be attached to one organization in their entire Hall Of Fame career as the face of the franchise. I remember watching the dreadful Quebec Nordiques win only a dozen games in a season in a good year but Sakic was scoring over a 100 points in that season and had over a 60 point difference over the next scorer. His career really exploded when the Nords moved to Colorado and the team built an excellent supporting cast around their all star center. Sakic evolved as an elite player and finally shook the stigma from his days in Quebec as he won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche and cemented his legacy as one of the best.
Although he never had the type of career he could have, Bernie Nicholls did have one amazing 70 goal and 150 point season in Los Angeles. He moved around a bit in his NHL career by playing for the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Black Hawks and San Jose Sharks but he always produced at more than a point per game average. Nicholls also displayed one of the truly unique personalities in the league and was known as “Hollywood Bernie” for his flamboyance both on and off the ice, even when he was out of Los Angeles.
There is a second part to this list as well, as I am also going to look at the players in today’s NHL that I enjoy watching. The format will follow the same theme as above with 2 goaltenders, 2 defencemen and 3 forwards.
If there is one phrase that Pekka Rinne can wear as a label it is “The Franchise.” The man is not just the greatest goalie in the very short history of the Nashville Predators, but he is also in the top 5 of the greatest goalies playing the game today. The forward and defence in Nashville seems to change on a yearly basis but the one constant is Rinne and his All-Star resume. The Preds are a perennial play off team every season and Pekka Rinne is a perennial favorite to win the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s top goalie.
I will be honest and come clean here, I thought Jonathan Quick was a flash in the pan player who would have disappeared by now and be stuck in the minors. There have been many goalies come into the NHL and have one or two good seasons and then fall off the map, but Quick has presented the Los Angeles Kings with a very unique problem…they have two all world talents in Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick may have the best agility in the game and yes, he does live up to his last name as his reflexes are lightning fast. Watching him play is something that is worth the price of admission alone.
I swear I see the second coming of Al MacInnis in the form of Shea Weber, as he has the same heavy shot that tops out at over 100 mph. There is one key difference in their styles however as Weber is an immense physical presence on the ice. Nashville has a second key piece in their building of their franchise with their captain manning the point. I did not fully appreciate what Weber brought to the ice until I saw him play for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. The man owned the ice when he stepped on it and left me with a lasting memory off him ripping a shot through the twine for a goal.
I usually by nature do not like New York teams in ANY sport but there is something different about the Islanders. I do not hate them but rather feel sorry for them and love seeing them upset other teams that take them too lightly. One player that they added that gives true leadership and a power play threat from the back end if Mark Streit. The man from Switzerland took over Sheldon Souray’s spot in Montreal and had a break out year that he has parlayed into a consistent career thus far. On a good team, Streit would easily score 20 goals and 70 points but on the Island he will be a few notches below that.
The only player to bridge both eras, Teemu Selanne is still playing at an elite level into his early 40’s. He has always been a natural goal scorer and point producer that has evolved throughout his career as a player both on and off the ice to not just remain relevant but also remain dominant. Selanne set an NHL rookie record with a 76 goal and 132 points which caused the league to take notice and dub him “The Finnish Flash” but it is in Anaheim alongside Paul Kariya that Selanne defined himself as an elite player. With one short stop in Colorado, with Kariya in tow, Selanne will always be remembered as “The Mighty Duck.”
Just like Shea Weber, I never fully appreciated how special a player Rick Nash was until I saw him suit up for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. What I witnessed was a young player who had size, strength, a natural scorer’s touch and a determination to do what was necessary to win. Nash has been a man alone in Columbus for many years and has perennial 50 goal scorer written all over him. Watching him on a line with Sidney Crosby was like watching poetry in motion. The two different styles of playing complemented each other better than any other duo on the team.
The Edmonton Oilers are chock full of young talent and are reminding me of the Pittsburgh Penguins from a few seasons ago. They are on the verge of becoming something special and one of the players that is at the core of it is Jordan Eberle. His talent and desire to have the puck on his stick in crucial moments at the World Junior Tournaments showed that he was a special talent that could develop into an elite player. He is not at that level yet, but is on a fast track to that level with his other young gun teammates in Edmonton directly behind him. This guy is a human highlight reel.