Ranking the 5 Most Entertaining Players in Pittsburgh Penguins History

Steve RodenbaughContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2014

Ranking the 5 Most Entertaining Players in Pittsburgh Penguins History

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    While much has been made about the greatest players in Pittsburgh Penguins history, often overlooked have been the most entertaining ones. While these players might not have been the most talented, they became fan favorites because of their style of play and showmanship. 

    These jerseys won't be found hanging from the rafters or on sale in the souvenir shops but are still proudly worn by fans in the stands or displayed prominently in their homes.

    For those looking for names like Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Crosby and Malkin, they won't be found on this list.

    Instead, let's honor the exploits of players who inspired chants and cheers from the Pittsburgh faithful and still hold a place in the hearts of Penguins fans to this day.

No. 5: Martin Straka

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    Although Jaromir Jagr was without a doubt the most talented member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the face of the franchise during the mid-to-late 1990s, he was never as beloved by Pens fans as his linemate and fellow Czech Martin Straka.

    While the 6'3" and 230-pound Jagr was prone to sulk and occasionally take plays off, the 5'9" and 171-pound Straka had a nonstop motor. He also had knack for forcing turnovers and turning them into scoring chances, as he did with his epic game-winning and series-clinching goal against the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

    Twice topping the 30-goal mark while with the Pens and still sitting at ninth for most goals (165) and 10th for most points (442) in franchise history, Straka entertained crowds at the "Igloo" for nine seasons. Despite being traded out of Pittsburgh twice, he still holds a special place in the hearts of Pens fans.

No. 4: Stu Barnes

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    When Penguins fans think of the best checking-line centers in franchise history, names like Jordan Staal and Bryan Trottier come to mind, but the often-overlooked Stu Barnes belongs in that discussion as well.

    Acquired in a lopsided trade with the Florida Panthers along with Jason Woolley in exchange for first-round bust Chris Wells, Barnes went from being just a feisty forechecker to a scoring threat and even topped the 30-goal mark in the 1997-98 season.

    Often greeted with affectionate chants of "Stu" from Pens fans whenever he touched the puck or registered a big hit, Barnes inspired a strong following among Pittsburgh fans, who appreciated the hard-nosed approach and fiery play of the 174-pound scrapper.

No. 3: Darius Kasparaitis

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    Few players have been both as hated and loved by Penguins fans as Darius Kasparaitis, who became known in Pittsburgh as "Kaspar the Unfriendly Ghost."

    Having tormented the Pens for years as a member of the New York Islanders, he was acquired by the Pens as part of the trade for Bryan Smolinski and became an instant hit with the fans.

    Despite being the shortest player on the Pens for most of his tenure, he had a way of coming up big with thunderous body checks. His epic hit on Eric Lindros of the Flyers has become the iconic symbol of his violent tenure in Pittsburgh.

No. 2: Francois Leroux

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    If there was ever a player with whom the average hockey fan could relate, it was Francois Leroux. He had the look of a fan who went to a Penguins fantasy camp and just never returned home.

    While his 6'6" and 250-pound frame made him one of the biggest players in franchise history, his cinder-block hands and lumbering strides endeared him to the kind of fans who are prone to stand and yell, "Hit somebody!"

    Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, that was something "Frankie" was both willing and able to do—both with his gloves on and off. His victories over Tony Twist and other NHL heavyweights earned him a reputation as a top-notch enforcer and a feature attraction at Pens games.

No. 1: Matthew Barnaby

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    After earning a reputation as the NHL's biggest agitator with the Buffalo Sabres, Matthew Barnaby brought his trademark in-your-face style of play to the Penguins when he arrived via trade in March 1999. He entertained "Igloo" crowds both with his play before the whistle and with his antics afterward as well.

    Despite his 5'9" and 180-pound frame, he was willing to take on anyone at anytime. He once famously fought his best friend and former teammate Rob Ray of the Sabres after having dinner with him the night before.

    Although his time in Pittsburgh was relatively short (just 153 regular and postseason games), Barnaby became an instant favorite with Penguins fans and brought a nastiness to a team that had plenty of skill but not nearly enough grit.

    Because of his desire to do whatever it took to not only win games but incite the crowd in the process, Barnaby holds a place in the hearts of Pittsburgh fans. He is the most entertaining player to ever wear the Penguin logo.