The Penguins’ season may have ended in May, but for seven players who found themselves on the Pittsburgh roster at one point or another, their season continued into the Stanley Cup Final.
Their tenures with the Penguins span from 2000 all the way up to February of 2018.
Of those 7, only 2 were originally drafted by Pittsburgh. Ironically, those were the only 2 whose time in Pittsburgh resulted in a Stanley Cup victory (or three in the case of a certain goaltender).
Former Penguins, Current Capitals
Why not begin with the love/hate relationships?
Brooks Orpik– Selected 18th overall by Pittsburgh, 2000 NHL Entry Draft
Orpik began his NHL career with the Penguins in the 2002-03 season, playing only six games. By the following year, he was a regular in the lineup, becoming the first wave of the Penguins complete rebuild for the new millennium. Orpik was never exactly known for his scoring, but his physical presence was known – and felt – by everybody on the ice. Often times, his physical play would cross the line, and Orpik accumulated 251 penalty minutes in his first two full seasons alone. Orpik’s style of play made him a fan favorite on a team struggling to find an identity as well as the win column of the stat sheet. By 2009, he was a core player on the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup winning team in 17 years.
In 2014, the Penguins were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. There would be major overhauling that offseason in an attempt to restructure a team that had consistently fallen short of its potential. Brooks Orpik was a free agent whose contract the Penguins decided not to renew. By that time, he had played 795 total games (regular season and playoffs) with Pittsburgh. It was the following season that Orpik began his tenure with the Washington Capitals. Since then, fan perspectives of Orpik may have shifted, but that is understandable. Orpik kept playing the same physical game, but it became frustrating when Penguin players were suddenly the targets of someone they had played with all of their respective careers. Still, the city of Pittsburgh remembers how instrumental Orpik was in creating the team they cheer for today.
Orpik was the only player on that Capitals roster with a prior Cup Championship.
Matt Niskanen – Acquired February 21, 2011, in a trade with Dallas
Matt Niskanen only spent four seasons in Pittsburgh, but that time helped to shape him into the stellar defenseman he is today. He arrived in Pittsburgh with somewhat of a question mark attached to his name. He had played in Dallas since 2007, but all Penguins fans knew about him was that he was one of few people to ever fight Sidney Crosby. On top of that, his status was overshadowed by the acquisition of top scorer James Neal, who arrived as a part of the same trade. “Nisky” quickly proved to Pittsburgh that he wasn’t just some throw-in on the trade; he belonged here. Through his time here, he grew rapidly as a player, even scoring a career-high in goals, assists, and points in 2014 (10g-36a-46p).
But along with Brooks Orpik, Niskanen found himself on the free agent market in the summer of 2014, eventually following his D-partner to the Capitals. While Niskanen proved himself in Pittsburgh, he just did not have the time to work his way into the hearts of the fans the way Orpik did. He was difficult to play against, and a controversial hit to the head of Sidney Crosby in the 2017 playoffs may have overshadowed any positive thoughts of Niskanen remaining in Pittsburgh.
Hockey is a business, players come and go. Niskanen was part of some great Penguin teams, but never a Stanley Cup Champion. He looks to write himself into the history books along with the rest of his Capitals teammates this year.
Former Penguins, Current Golden Knights
The Real Deal, James Neal – Acquired February 21, 2011, in a trade with Dallas
Neal arrived in February 2011 as a part of the aforementioned deal with the Dallas Stars. He and Matt Niskanen came to Pittsburgh in exchange for Alex Goligoski. In his first 20 games with the Penguins, Neal seemed a bit flat, banking only eight points. However, the next season, he showed Pittsburgh why they called him the Real Deal. Neal scored 40 goals and 41 assists, second in Penguin scoring only to Evgeni Malkin’s 50 goal season. The two were electrifying together. For that season and two more after it, the Penguins’ best line was their second line, thanks mainly to Neal and Malkin.
Neal’s stay in Pittsburgh was short lived. As a result of the 2014 playoff collapse, as well as management being less than thrilled about his play sometimes crossing the line into cheap and dirty, James Neal was traded to Nashville during the first round of that year’s draft. In exchange, the Penguins acquired Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist. As most people don’t need to be reminded, Hornqvist scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal against Neal’s Predators just last year.
David Perron – Acquired January 2, 2015, in a trade with Edmonton
David Perron is symbolic of the Penguins’ trial-and-error re-tooling ofrom 2014 to 2016. He spent just over a year in Pittsburgh, being acquired in January 2015 and shipped out in January of the following year. Perron performed averagely for Pittsburgh, scoring just 38 points in 86 regular season games. What the Pittsburgh organization may be most grateful to Perron for is Carl Hagelin. Perron was traded along with Adam Clendenning to the Anaheim Ducks in 2016 for a then-struggling Hagelin. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Hagelin became a perfect fit, and the rest is back-to-back history.
Now, Perron has found new life in Vegas with the Golden Knights. He scored 66 points in 70 games this season and found himself playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Deryk Engelland– Signed 2007, debuted November 10, 2009.
Engelland played a few different roles during his time in Pittsburgh. He began as an AHL call-up, bouncing between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre during the 2009-10 season. Engelland became a bottom-pair regular, even a rostered seventh defenseman the few times for head coach Dan Bylsma. He played a physical game, not unlike that of Brooks Orpik, but Engelland just didn’t have staying power. He wound up as a free agent in 2014 and decided to sign with Calgary.
While Engelland’s time in Pittsburgh may not have been the most memorable, his time in Vegas certainly has been. As a native of the Las Vegas area, the city and team rallied around him to lead them through the tragedy of the Mandalay Bay shooting back on October 1, 2017. The Vegas Strong movement was headed largely by Engelland, who gave an emotional tribute before the Golden Knights’ first home game just days after the shooting.
Deryk Engelland has found a home in Vegas, and his team and city are certainly grateful that he is with them.
Ryan Reaves – Acquired June 23, 2017, in a trade with St. Louis.
“Reavo” spent the least amount of time in Pittsburgh out of any player on this list; just 58 games. He provided muscle and character to the Penguins’ bottom six group of forward. Scoring was not his forte, but it was no secret that he was brought into town for other reasons. After fighting Cody McLeod just days into the 2017 season, Reaves became an instant fan-favorite. His popularity only increased when videos of basketball games and pranks on Phil Kessel emerged. Unfortunately, the popularity was not enough to keep Reaves in the Steel City, as he was traded to Vegas at the end of February. While his stay was brief, Reaves was unique in just how great an impact he had on the city of Pittsburgh in such a short time.
Marc-André Fleury -Selected 1st Overall by Pittsburgh in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
An attempt to put Marc-Andre Fleury’s worth into words would be pointless. For 14 years, the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Penguins was a kid from Quebec who wore #29. Through roster turnover and a lockout season, he was there. Through playoff failure and Stanley Cup victory, he was there. Fleury set franchise records and stole the hearts of anyone who watched hockey in Pittsburgh. So many memories of Fleury’s excellence come to mind. Nobody remembers full games, but everyone remembers individual, dazzling saves. Out of all of them, a diving stop on Nick Lidstrom to win the Stanley Cup in 2009 stands out among the rest.
Despite all of this, Pittsburgh’s relationship with the Flower was not perfect. In two straight postseasons, Fleury fell apart. The impulsive ones in Pittsburgh were ready to run him out of town. But as a true testament to his character, he battled through it, coming back better than ever in the years following. On top of that, he mentored a young Matt Murray into the championship-caliber goaltender he is today. Fleury gave his starting job to Murray with grace, just as he handed Murray the Stanley Cup as a changing of the guard in 2017.
When Fleury was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, a chapter of Pittsburgh Penguins history came to an end. He was the first of the new generation of Penguins – himself, Malkin, Crosby, Staal – to be drafted. It was with great difficulty that a city said goodbye to one of its adopted sons, and with great pride that it watches him have a season for the ages. In a new city, leading a brand-new team, Marc-Andre Fleury finds himself playing in yet another Stanley Cup. Around him are a band of “Golden Misfits” and his future is uncertain. However, he not only has the fiery support of a new hockey-crazed Vegas but the long distance cheers of a Steel City who fell in love with him the moment he entered Mellon Arena 15 years ago.
Marc-Andre Fleury may very well be the most beloved man in sports.