Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s One Hit Wonder series. Each day, we will take a look at a new team’s three biggest one-hit wonders. These are players that had one great season or playoff run but never did anything like that again. Join us every day for a new team! Today we take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins One-Hit Wonders.
The Pittsburgh Penguins One-Hit Wonders
This is likely a name that Penguins fans haven’t heard in a long time. Rico Fata was originally drafted sixth overall by the Calgary Flames in the 1998 NHL Draft. In juniors, he was a 40-50 goal scorer during some of his seasons. In his last full season in the OHL, for example, he tallied 43 goals and 76 points in 64 games. This performance was what earned him his high draft selection and would result in his fast track to the NHL, playing in 20 games with the Flames the following year.
However, he hardly got to play for the Flames after he was drafted. From 1998 to 2001, he only appeared in a combined 27 games in a Calgary jersey. He was claimed off of waivers by the New York Rangers in October of 2001 but again wasn’t able to muster up much playing time, only combining for 46 games as a Ranger before being traded to the Penguins in 2003. Following his February move to Pittsburgh, he finished the season with 27 games as a Penguin and accumulated five goals and 13 points. But it was his first full season as a Penguin that put him on the map.
His one-hit season came during the 2003-04 season, for a Penguins team that was atrocious. They finished dead last in the Atlantic Division standings with a 23-47-4 record. This came with Eddie Olcyzk behind the bench. Fata was one of the only reasons why Penguins fans would even bother coming to the games that season. In 73 games, he had a career-high 16 goals and 34 points, which put him fifth on the team in scoring. Only three other forwards fared better than him: Ryan Malone, Milan Kraft, and Aleksey Morozov.
After the Wonder
Fata would go on to leave Pittsburgh via waivers in the following season, moving to the Atlanta Thrashers. But after only six performances with Atlanta, he was claimed off of waivers yet again, this time by the Washington Capitals. In total during that 2005-06, Fata tallied just three goals and seven points in a combined 47 games. In the 2006-07 season, which ended up being his last season, he only appeared in 10 games with the Capitals and had one goal and an assist.
For a few seasons after that, Fata went to play overseas. He played two years in Germany, five in the Swiss league, and one in Sweden. In his five years in Switzerland, he tallied over-10 goals four times. Still, his performances in Europe were never enough to bring him back to North America.
Kraft was a first-round pick in the 1998 NHL Draft by the Penguins but would go on to only play in four seasons for them. He was a star in the Czech leagues before getting to North America. At the age of 15, Kraft scored a league-high 95 points in 41 games in the Czech 18U league. Two seasons later, he made his debut in the Czech professional league, playing in two seasons, before moving to the WHL for the 1998-99 season. In two seasons there, he had a 40 goal 86 point campaign and a 34 goal 69 point campaign.
Kraft then moved to Pittsburgh, debuting during the 2000-2001 season. He played in 42 games for the Penguins that season and had seven goals and 14 points. During his next two seasons, he had 15 goals combined to go along with 28 combined points.
Kraft’s one-hit season with the Penguins came alongside Fata’s, when the team was absolutely awful. He played in 66 games during the 2003-04 season and had 19 goals and 40 points. Of those 19 goals that he scored during that season, 13 of them came at even-strength. That was a high bar to cross for anyone for Pittsburgh during that season as they were struggling to score most nights. The Penguins had that infamous 18-game losing streak during that season that stretched from early January all the way till late February. But even with that, Kraft was able to have an excellent season and be one of the Penguins best players in a very hard time for the franchise.
After the Wonder
Kraft’s NHL playing days were over after that season. He went back to the Czech Republic and played in seven more seasons. His best came during 2004-2005 where he had 11 goals and 25 points in 50 games.
It may seem a bit odd that Rob Scuderi is on here but other than his 2008-2009 season with the Penguins, he really wasn’t anything special during his career. Scuderi was drafted by the Penguins and made his debut during the 2003-2004 season. He only played in 13 games that year before playing full-time during the 2005-2006 season. That year, he played in 57 games but only accumulated four points. His workload increased again the following season (2007-2008) as he played in 78 games and had just a singular goal and 12 points. His one-hit-wonder season came right after, where he won his first of two Stanley Cups.
Scuderi’s performance isn’t like others. While players like Pierre Larouche, Jean Provost, and Ron Stackhouse certainly embody the point-explosion shown by Kraft and Fata, none of them hold a candle to the legend that Scuderi managed in the blink of an eye. His 2008-09 season saw the same point-less, and pointless, production that fans had become accustomed to. His use on the team seemed moot. But in Game Six of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, against the Detroit Red Wings, Scuderi became a Penguins hero.
It was a magical night for Scuderi. He finished the game with one assist, one hit, and four blocked shots. Other than those measly tallies, his stat-sheet was left blank. But that’s no fault of his own since saved goals only count for goalies, not defencemen.
And that’s exactly what Scuderi did: saved a goal. Some of Detroit’s finest were whacking away at a loose puck during a late-game scrum in front of the net, desperately trying to claw back from their one-goal deficit. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was thrown out of the net with the puck laying in the centre of the crease. But by the grace of the Hockey Gods, Scuderi was in the right place at the right time and managed to drop to his knees and cover the puck. Despite being dove on by teammates, and whacked at by Red Wings, Scuderi held on to the puck, and the lead, tightly.
Without this play, the game would’ve been destined for overtime. In a hard-fought Game Six, with Detroit giving their all to win, this could’ve meant doom for Pittsburgh. But Scuderi’s miraculous save kept Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes alive.
His Game Six performance was magical and has gone down in Pittsburgh fans’ hearts as a result. It blew away the hockey world, even catching the emphatic awe of the New York Times. And with another assist in Game Seven, Scuderi cemented his Pittsburgh legacy. With one great stick save, another kick save, and a dramatic flash, Scuderi helped Pittsburgh win their first Cup in 17 years.
After the Wonder
After that season, Scuderi moved to the Los Angeles Kings where he won another Stanley Cup, albeit without the dramatics. He was fine defensively for the Kings and even had some good underlying numbers but it still wasn’t up to par for what he did during 2008-9.
Scuderi ended up back in Pittsburgh, after four seasons with the Kings, but his play never seemed to fit. He was falling for countless errors and looked much slower than before. As a result, he was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in December of 2015, returning Trevor Daley to Pittsburgh. Scuderi played a handful of games with Chicago and, through another trade, L.A. for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. For the 2016-17 season he was held exclusively to the AHL, retiring after year’s end.