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Welcome to The Real DFG's Pittsburgh Penguin Autograph Project. My goal is to eventually try and get at least one autograph of every player to lace up the skates in an NHL game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It could have been for one game or 700 games, I will add them. Occasionally I may post cards of former players in their new team uniforms. While the goal is to get autos in Pens uni's, it isn't always possible. Since the team has been in existence since 1967, the list is pretty large. Last I checked, it was somewhere in the range of 624 different players. Currently, I sit at about 100 autographs (with some duplication). Enjoy the posts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Simon Despres, Joe Vitale

Despite the fact that I have had this one lying around for quite sometime, somehow it never made its way to a post.  Until now.  And how fitting considering neither player wears the Pittsburgh sweater any longer.  I'm talking, of course, about Simon Despres and Joe Vitale.

I've posted about Vitale before so I will focus this one on Mr. Despres since at one time, Simon was supposed to be the next big thing on D in Pittsburgh.

Despres was the Penguins first round draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  He was a powerhouse in the AHL and was considered by many in the Pens organization to be a top-four defenseman.  But when he made his way to the NHL, the Pens didn't get the production they were expecting.  Instead, he was relegated to a third line pairing and sometimes even a fourth-liner.  His reserved nature made him one of the quietest in the Pens locker room but somehow he still managed to win over the crowd and was a fan favorite, including myself.

Then, like most of these tragic stories, his time in Pittsburgh came to an end when Mike Rutherford decided to deal him to the Ducks for former Pen Ben Lovejoy.  If the "win-now" attitude is what this organization has, then I get it.  Otherwise, I will never understand this trade.  Sure Lovejoy has tweaked his game and is a reliable D-man that plays his zone very well and isn't prone to mistakes.  But Despres is young and his game has to mature.  His errant passes, poor decision making, and dumb penalties will eventually go away in a year or two with experience.  Lovejoy is getting up there in age and will most likely not be back in the Pens jersey going forward.  I see way more long-term upside in Despres.  I hope he does well with Anaheim and I wish him the best.

This card comes from the 2011-12 Panini Titanium issue.  It is from the Rookie Dual Signature set and is serial numbered #/50.  These are both sticker autos signed in blue ink.  Vitale uses his jersey number on his signatures and his name is easily recognized.  Despres...not so much.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Niklas Nordgren

 Don't look now but we got ourselves another rental player.  By rental, I mean 15 games.  Niklas became a Penguin after spending time in the Carolina organization.  He was drafted in 1997 but didn't make his way to North America until the 2005-06 season.  He spent time in the Swedish Elite League prior to making the move.

The Penguins acquired his services in the big trade for Mark Recchi.  Big may not be the right word.  It was the second time Mark had played for the Pens and they were looking for some depth at the trade deadline.  They also picked up Krys Kolanos and 2007 2nd Round pick, which turned into Keven Veilleux (a long term WBS and Wheeling Nailer).   

In all honesty, I don't remember Nordgren in a Pens jersey.  In his 15 games, he put up a few penalty minutes but his contribution on the ice was minimal.  This card comes from the 2006-07 Parkhurst set and is signed on a sticker in blue ink.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jon Filewich

The Pens have had a long line of prospects with a ton of talent that ultimately led down the road to bust-ville.  Jon Filewich followed that path almost to a "T".  Coming into the league as a Penguins draft pick in 2003, he toiled in the minors for six seasons until the Pens gave him a shot with WBS in 2005-06.  Two seasons later, his NHL debut came in a game vs. the Capitals.

After only five games, he was sent back down to WBS and was eventually traded the following season to the St. Louis Blues.  He never got a shot with the Blues main club and was instead relegated to the Peoria Rivermen.  After failing to come to a contract agreement, he headed to Europe, joining the EC Red Bull Salzburg.  After only two seasons in Europe, he retired after the 2010-11 season. 

Jon actually spent much of his time in WBS and Europe working on his college degree from Brandon University.  He has a degree in Physical Education and eventually wants to become a teacher, or so he said in an interview back in 2013 while playing a charity game between WBS alumni and the police department. 

This card comes from the 2008-09 Champ's Hockey set.  It's part of the Mini Signatures and is hard signed in blue ink.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ryan Whitney

Ryan played his first games for the "big" club in the 2005-06 season, skating in place of injured Dick Tarnstrom (yes, THE Dick Tarnstrom).  He impressed the Pens brass so much so that they kept him for the remainder of the season.  There was something there that the team knew was going to be special.  That following year, he showed them what it was by becoming one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league, scoring 14 goals and 45 helpers for a total of 59 points.  Of course it doesnt' hurt when your teammates are named Crosby, Staal, and Malkin.

If you have read any of my Pens Auto reviews, you have to know that most of these guys don't have happy endings and Ryan's story is no different.  After signing a juicy, multi-year contract complete with a no-trade clause cherry on top ($24 million), his offensive production began to slip.  Then, the injuries started.  Once it was discovered that he had a chronic foot problem that had been plaguing him his entire career, surgery was necessary to correct it.  His fate was sealed at that point and after only a few games back, he was traded to the Ducks for two guys that were expected to be an immediate impact and a future powerhouse, Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi (so they were 50% correct).

Whitney moved on to play for the Ducks, Oilers, and most recently the Florida Panthers.  That didn't last long, however, as Ryan signed with the HC Sochi team in KHL after failing land a renewed NHL contract after the 2013-14 season.  I believe he is still on the roster in Sochi.

This card comes from the 2005-06 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Signatures set.  It features a horizontal orientation and a hard signed auto in blue ink.  Obviously the big pull from this set is the Sidney Crosby.   

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Double Shot: Ryan Whitney & Sergei Gonchar

I'm not 100% sure on this one but I think this may be my first Double Shot card featuring two autographs of Penguin players.  This card comes from the 2008-09 Be A Player Double Signatures set.  It features two former Penguin D-men, Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

Like many of the stories that are told about these former players, they don't always end well.  Whitney had a very promising career as a Penguin but a lingering foot problem requiring surgery took his career on a downward spiral and eventually relegated him to the minor league affiliate of the Florida Panthers.  This is the same guy that put up 59 points in 2006-07 as one of the league's top D-men.

Sergei Gonchar has a little better story.  I will be surprised if he isn't eventually elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame because of the dominant career he had.

He was a pivotal piece in the Pens winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992 (even playing with a partially torn MCL).  He was one of the biggest reasons Evgeni Malkin was able to adjust to life in the US after leaving Russia.  Sergei took Malkin under his wing, even letting Geno live with him during the early days in Pittsburgh.

He scored 50 goals in nine of ten season span in the league.  He was also the first Russian defenceman to score 200 goals, doing so in 2010.  From 2000-01 through 2009-10, he scored 500 points, second only behind Nicklas Lidstrom, a sure HOFer.  However, he bested his contemporary Lidstrom in points per game during that time with .80 over Lidstroms' .76.

Unfortunately, like things tend to play out in the Free Agent Frenzy world of sports, Gonchar left for "greener" pastures in Ottawa, signing a three-year, $16 million contract.  After the lockout, he was again traded to Dallas where he currently (as of this posting) still plays.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Petr Sykora

Sykora was one of those guys that always brought something to the table when he stepped on the ice.  He had great scoring capabilities, great hands, and wasn't afraid to get dirty if he had to.

He was drafted by the Devils 18th overall in the 1995 draft and immediately made an impact on the team.  He put up 42 points his rookie season and by year four, he was one of the top scorers.  He played on the A-Line along with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott, the line that catapulted the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals in back to back seasons, emerging victorious in 1999-00.

In 2002-03, he was traded to the Ducks after his offensive production began to slip.  He again played for the Cup by helping Anaheim reach the finals that year.  After the lockout, he was traded to the Rangers where he only played one season.  He was signed by the Edmonton Oilers for the following year, putting up 53 points.

He made his way to Pittsburgh in July 2007 after signed as an UFA.  He was first put on the line with Sidney Crosby but later found a home alongside Evgeni Malkin.  He had his best season since 2000-01 with 63 points.  For the fourth time, he got to play in the Stanley Cup finals against Wings.

The next season, his play time was diminished significantly by the time post-season rolled around, due to the Pens acquiring Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz at the trade deadline.  But he did get to play, briefly, in the Stanley Cup finals and, despite a badly injured foot, he hoisted the Cup for the first time on the ice (since he was injured when the Devils won).  As a UFA again that summer, he was picked up by the Minnesota Wild but would only play 14 games before going to play in Europe.

Having waited long enough for a new NHL deal that didn't come and having not played in Europe since 2012-13, he hung up the skates in March 2014 and retired from whence he came, as a New Jersey Devil.

This card comes from the 2008-09 Be A Player set.  It is a sticker auto and is signed in black ink.  Sykora uses his uniform number in his signature...yes, that's a 17 not a fish hook.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Erik Christensen

This is the tale of another in a long line of talented prospects that the Pens just couldn't fit into their mix because of deep roster talent in the late 2000s.

Erik was drafted in the 3rd round in 2002 by the Pens.  He was a dynamo on the ice in the WHL, putting up 108 points for Kamloops in 67 games in 2002-03.

The Pens quickly moved him up to their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the lockout season to see what he could do on a team that was loaded with budding stars.  He didn't disappoint, putting up 27 points, followed by 19 points in the first 9 games of 2005-06.  That's what got him a gig in the big leagues.

Playing alongside fellow rookies Colby Armstrong, Ryan Whitney, and another up and comer...Sidney Crosby, he put up 13 points in 33 games.  But with so much talent on the Pens roster, there wasn't a whole lot of room on the bench.  With a deep talent pool in WBS and marquee players in front of him, plus a surging push to the playoffs Crusher's days were numbered.

At the trade deadline in 2008, Erik, along with Colby Armstrong, Angelo Esposito, and a 1st round pick became Cup contender casualties and were sent packing to Atlanta in exchange for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.  These two players would help the Pens reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in over 15 years.

Christensen never saw the opportunities after that.  In 2009 he was traded to Anaheim for Eric O'Dell.  The following season, he was pulled from the waiver wire by the Rangers.  While playing in New York, he injured a ligament in his knee, causing him to miss some significant time.  In 2012 he was dealt to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Casey Wellman.  The last two seasons, he has been seen playing in the KHL and the Swedish Hockey League.

This card comes from the 2007-08 Upper Deck Artifacts Auto-Facts set.  It is a sticker auto signed in blue ink.  Erik doesn't have the best signature out there.  It's very lazy like a lot of players in the modern era.  You can only really make out E. Cit and the number 16.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jordan Staal

This just in, Jordan Staal has been traded back to Pittsburgh, along with his brother, for a bag of rusty nails and some small pox infested blankets.


Not that you believed me anyway.

This is my second Jordan Staal auto to be featured on the Project Page.  ObviouslyMr. Staal has left Pittsburgh for "redder" pastures because there was one time when I thought he would be a Penguin forever.  That seems to be the death knell for players that I decide to collect.

Staal currently plays for Carolina along with his brother Eric.  Basically the two of them over the last two seasons have turned the Hurricanes into a franchise that is fun to watch and equally as scary to play against.  Jordan has embraced this opportunity to play alongside his brother and will most certainly be part of something special in the near future.

This card comes from the 2011-12 SP Authentic Sign of the Times set.  It is signed in blue ink and Jordan uses his number to accentuate his moniker.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peter Skudra

Peter Skudra is one of those career backup guys that is solid, but just not solid enough to win a starting job.  He came to the Penguins in 1997 after toiling for two years in his home country of Latvia, then another three years in the AHL minors.  When he did arrive, he was signed as the third goalie behind Tom Barrasso and Ken Wregget.  Because of that, he was only able to muster 17 games that season.  But with Wregget getting traded to Calgary, Skudra got his chance to become the solid #2 behind Barrasso the next season.

His third year had the potential to be a huge one until JS Aubin came out of nowhere to emerge as the clear number one.  After appearing in only 20 games in 1999-00, he was released to free agency and eventually signed a deal to play in Boston...a deal that lasted all of three days!  The Sabres took him off the waiver wire, dressed him for a game, realized Martin Biron was their guy, and cut him loose again.

Eventually, the Bruins picked him back up to sit behind Byron Dafoe.  Appearing in 26 games, the goalie carousel in Boston was just too much to keep him on the roster.  He got a shot as backup to Mike Richter in New York but lost that job to Dan Blackburn.  Then he finally found a spot on Vancouver as Dan Cloutier's backup.  This was a comfortable spot for him until Alex Auld took over backup duties at the end of 2002-03.

In 2003, he left for the Russian League, playing four seasons for various teams.  After 13 seasons, he retired in 2007, becoming head coach of the Torpedo Nizhniy Novgorod team in 2013.

This card comes from the ITG Be A Player set.  It is signed in black marker.  Skudra uses his jersey number in his signatures.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Randy Boyd

Randy Boyd was a solid, stay-at-home defenseman that logged over 250 games for four different clubs.  He came to the Penguins as the 51st pick in the 1980 Entry Draft.  By the next season, 1981-82, he earned himself a spot on the Pens roster full time.

His stay would be short though, as the Pens traded him away to Chicago in 1983 for Greg Fox (who only logged 75 total games for the Pens over two seasons).  Boyd later spent parts of seasons with the Islanders and the Canucks.
Joe's talent went mostly unnoticed at the NHL level but he spent many years impressing in minor league hockey.  He was selected to the IHL first all-star team in 1984-85.  In 1988-89, he won the Governor's trophy and a spot on the first all-star team again playing for the Milwaukee Admirals.  After the 1993 season, Joe finally retired but took a coaching job in the ECHL with the Memphis River Kings.

Even though his career spanned from 1979-1994, he only has nine licensed cards that I know of.  This card comes from the 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee set and is considered his Rookie Card.  It's the only major manufacturers licensed card out there.  The other eight are all local team issue cards.  This was signed by Randy in person with a blue sharpie.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sidney Crosby...sort of.

I suppose I can preface this one by saying that I have yet to procure myself an actual Sidney Crosby autograph.  With that being said, this is the next closest thing.

Back in 2005-06, Upper Deck came out with the resurrected Parkhurst brand.  Included in the set was a series of Season Highlight cards focusing on then rookie star Sidney Crosby.  The base set was also accompanied by a parallel set #'d out of 100 featuring facsimile autographs.

This card features Sid the Kid along with his auto and commemorates him becoming the youngest player in NHL history to score 100 points.  I wasn't going to include this on my auto blog at all because it isn't a real autograph.  But because of it's limited production and popularity on the secondary market, I figured it was the next best thing to a real one (WHICH ONE DAY I WILL HAVE).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Joe Dziedzic

I have talked about the potential for Joe to be a great Penguin before and his career ending eye injury in 2000 so I will spare everyone the recap.  But I did find more about his career after the NHL, which is more interesting I think.  

From 2004-2009, he coached Minnesota's Team Northwest in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.  They made it to the championship game in 2008. In 2010, Joe began his job as head coach and director of hockey at St. Paul Academy and Summit School.  

As I mentioned, Joe now runs a youth hockey camp in Minnesota.  He has helped train hundreds of players of all ages on the fundamentals of what it takes to be a great player.  His camp focuses on skills development, helping students improve both skating and puck handling.   The advertise a "no-gimmicks" approach to instructions, meaning good old fashioned hard work and dedication.

This is the second Joe Dziedzic autographed card I have been able to add to my collection.  You can check out the first one here, along with my original write up if you would like.  

This one comes from the 1994 Signature Rookies set and is hand numbered out of 7,750.  The card is signed in what looks like blue sharpie marker.  It's interesting that Joe decided not to cover up any of his image and elected to sign over the card logo itself.  Vanity?  Maybe.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jean Pronovost

Jean Pronovost is an All-Time Great for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He is a member of the Trib Total Media All Time Team, is third all time in team scoring with 316, third all time in games played with 753, and seventh in points with 603, having been passed by Evgeni Malkin this season.

Jean grew up in the shadows of his older brother Marcel who, by the time Jean was able to skate, was already an NHL All-Star in his own right.  To make a name for himself, he vowed to focus his play, not just on offense, but on defense as well.  Coming up through the ranks of the CHL, he eventually made it to Boston farm team, Oklahoma City.  But before playing a single game for the Bruins, he was sold to the Penguins, along with John Arbour.  Pittsburgh is where he would cement his legacy.

Pronovost was a consistent goal scorer and showed his endless dedication to his defensive play.  He put up 20 goals nine times during his time for the Pens, over 30 goals six times and over 40 goals four times.  His best season came in 1975-76 where he put up 52 goals and 52 assists while playing on wing of the "Century Line" with Syl Apps Jr. and Lowell McDonald.  They got their name from a local news reporter after combining for 100 goals in the 1973-74 season.

This card comes from the 2012-13 Panini Classics Signatures set.  It is signed on-card in blue sharpie.  I didn't get to pull this from either of the boxes I have opened.  Instead, I was able to land two of these in separate auctions online.

Here is a little video about the "Century Line".  Click here to check it out since Blogger isn't being nice posting videos today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Joe Vitale

At the time of typing this post, Vitale was on the shelf with an injury.  The Pens secondary scoring guys have been getting banged up as of late and it will be interesting to see if Shero goes after some talent before the trade deadline.

At any rate, this is my second Vitale auto.  This comes from the 2011-12 Panini Contenders Calder Contenders set and is serial numbered out of /800.  I picked this one up about a year ago.  I can't remember where though.  I think it might have come from a show out of a discount autograph box from a dealer table but I could be wrong.

DJ Joe has been a versatile player for the Pens, moving from center to right wing.  With this being only his second full season, he has progressed from centering the fourth line, to right wing on the second line, to filling in on the top line with Kunitz and Crosby.  

Vitale has 165 cards out there to date with most of them being serial numbered.  56 of them are also autographed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ulf Samuelsson

What can I say about Ulf that hasn't been said already?  Well, probably a lot since I haven't really said anything about him yet since this was my first auto.

Call him a dirty player, call him a pest, call him an antagonist.  It doesn't matter what you call him because I'm sure he doesn't care.  Coming to the Pens in the big Hartford trade that also sent us Ron Francis, Ulf won his only two Stanley Cups while wearing black and gold.  He is even credited with the game winning, Cup winning, goal in 1991 vs. the North Stars.  The Pens won that game 8-0 but with only two minutes in to the first period, Ulf scored a power play goal on Jon Casey with a wrist shot from the left point.

Ulf was a physical, seek-and-destroy type defenseman and his play showed that.  He finished his career with 332 points and 2,453 penalty minutes.  Because of his physicality and eventually his credit with ending Cam Neely's career (although Neely's injury was exacerbated by a degenerative disorder that wasn't diagnosed until after he retired), Ulf is constantly labeled as a dirty player and frequently appears on many Top 10 lists of "hated" players.  I'm not one of his naysayers.  Ulf was eventually traded to the Rangers, along with Luc Robitaille, for Sergei Zubov and Petr Nedved.

This card comes from the 1995-96 Upper Deck Be A Player set.  I've shown a few from this set already before.  As you can see, this was back when the lockout was in full swing and player licenses through the NHLPA was all that could be relied on for set production (hence, no logos).  I love the fact that this card says "Ice Wars" because that's exactly what went on when Ulf was on the ice...a WAR!