Which Former Player Will the Pittsburgh Penguins Miss Most This Season?


After a summer of sweeping offseason changes to the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, the team opens the 2014-15 season with a fair number of new faces in the locker room, while watching former Pittsburgh mainstays suit up in rival jerseys. As Pittsburgh prepares to drop the puck on the new season, Pens Labyrinth takes a look at which former Penguin will be most missed come opening night.

Brooks Orpik
The longest tenured Penguin to move on from the team this summer, Brooks Orpik played his first game in black and gold in 2002. In the 11 seasons that followed, he rose among the ranks to become one of the Penguins’ most important leaders on and off the ice. While he was never one to rack up many points from the blue line, Orpik became a fan favourite by way of his intimidating, old school, purely defensive style of play – and his propensity to throw his body around was pivotal to Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup championship run.

The Penguins may have made some excellent moves to fill their blue line vacancies this summer, infusing some very reliable, very skilled defensemen, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to replace the physical edge that Orpik brought throughout the majority of his career.

Matt Niskanen
Matt Niskanen has to be one of the greatest trade steals in team history. In 2011, the Dallas Stars traded promising winger James Neal to the Penguins for a young, puck-moving defenseman by the name of Alex Goligoski. Just to sweeten the deal to land Goligoski (despite already giving up a much better player in Neal), Dallas threw in Matt Niskanen. Little did they know that following a few seasons that saw Goligoski spend a fair amount of time watching games from the press box as a healthy scratch, Niskanen would go on to be one of Pittsburgh’s most reliable defenders, one who was crucial to keeping the team afloat as numerous other stars went down with injury.

Niskanen’s final season with the Penguins saw him amass 46 points, a +33 rating, and even an 11th-place finish in Norris Trophy voting. Not too shabby for a player who was tucked into a trade that would have already been decidedly tilted in the Penguins’ favour without him. While it was clear Pittsburgh wouldn’t be able to afford Niskanen following his breakout season, his under-the-radar, reliable presence throughout his time in Pittsburgh will surely be missed.

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Joe Vitale
You’ve got to be happy for Joey V. After paying his dues for three years in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and then for four years in Pittsburgh (primarily on the fourth line), Joe Vitale earned himself a three year deal for upwards of $3 million from Arizona. That being said, Vitale’s energy, physicality, and top-tier skill in the face-off circle will certainly be missed among the Penguins’ bottom six.

Injuries prevented Vitale from having much of an impact on the team’s most recent season, but throughout his time in the Penguins sweater, he was a solid contributor and never wavered in his determined drive to make the team better – regardless of the role he was asked to take.

Vitale was one of the few bright spots among the Penguins’ bottom two lines over the last few years. He’s a guy you would’ve been happy to see lift the Cup, who would’ve prompted quotes from coaches along the lines of “You need those types of guys to win championships”, had they been able to go all the way. Here’s hoping the new additions to Pittsburgh’s bottom six are able to match the tenacity that Vitale brought to the team.

Jussi Jokinen
Jussi Jokinen was another steal by former GM Ray Shero, as the absurdly versatile forward was acquired from Carolina for a conditional 6th or 7th round pick in 2013. Jokinen made an immediate impact upon joining the team, contributing meaningfully at centre, while Sidney Crosby missed time with a broken jaw, as well as at wing, developing some nice chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal to form a very dangerous second line.

His versatility meshed excellently with a Penguins team that constantly had to fill holes due to injury. In his first full season with the team, he posted a 20-goal/57-point season, and led the team in goal-scoring through 13 playoff games with 7 tallies.

Jokinen proved himself as a reliable secondary scorer for Pittsburgh – something they were (and still are) desperately in need of. While the team brought in some fresh legs who will hopefully contribute similarly this season, the head office did not replace Jokinen’s versatility – an overlooked asset that could prove problematic if the injuries pile up again this year.

James Neal
The most shocking move of the Penguins’ summer was surely the trading of James Neal to the Nashville Predators. From the moment Neal came to the Penguins in 2011, it seemed like a perfect fit. The potential of his elite goalscoring alongside the unmatched creativity of Pittsburgh’s centres seemed too good to be true.

That potential became a reality in Neal’s first full season with the team, as he developed fantastic chemistry with Malkin, leading to a 40-goal/80-point season from Neal, a 50-goal/109-point season from Malkin, and an endless string of highlight reel plays. Injuries shortened Neal’s final season with Pittsburgh, though he still managed to put up 27 goals and 61 points in 57 games – a near 40-goal pace once again.

It seemed the Penguins had found a perfect secondary tandem in Neal & Malkin to play behind their lead tandem of Sidney Crosby & Chris Kunitz for the foreseeable future, but it appears the Penguins’ head office thought otherwise. The Neal trade did allow Pittsburgh to balance their offense, and their team in general, a bit more than in years past, but it remains to be seen if they’ll feel the effects of removing such a vital part of their offense from their lineup.

Who do you think the team will miss most this season? Let us know below!