Sidney Crosby: Portrait of a Canadian Hockey Phenom

Patrick Cwiklinski@@patcwiklinskiCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2009

Since Wayne Gretzky, the National Hockey League (NHL) has been on the hunt to find the next big Canadian superstar. Though they seem to have found him in current Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the question of whether there is just too much pressure being put on our country’s young hockey stars to perform has been put forth for good reason.

Crosby, who was drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2005, is currently in his fifth NHL season and already holds a more impressive resume than the majority of players within the league who’ve played a lot longer than he has.

Crosby is the youngest player in history to be named full captain of a hockey team, the youngest to be voted onto an All-Star team, the youngest to win the Art Ross Trophy, and the youngest to win a Lester B. Pearson Award, the list goes on.

The Coal Harbour native is also a shoo-in to represent Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and he’s without a doubt the most hyped up Canadian hockey player since Eric Lindros, another player who entered the NHL with similar unrealistic expectations.

Lindros, dubbed “The Next One” in reference to Gretzky’s moniker “The Great One”, was picked first overall in the 1991 NHL Draft by the Quebec Nordiques after an amazing junior career, as well as a surreal amount of fan and media build-up.

But “The Big E” was promptly traded from Quebec after refusing to play for the team in a move that sent him to the Philadelphia Flyers for an arsenal of players, picks, and cash.

This move proved just how highly coveted Lindros was when he was drafted, and the amount of losses that teams were willing to go through in order to pick him up.

But as most of us know today, Lindros never reached his full potential because of on-going injury problems that would plague him throughout his career. He retired in 2006 with a total of 865 points.

So with the disappointment of Lindros nearly 15 years earlier, Canada looked to Crosby as its saviour and the NHL saw this as the perfect opportunity to market the living daylights out of its new found poster boy.

Crosby—still a kid himself—had to grow up fast under the limelight and immense pressure that followed him everywhere he went.

But despite everything, Crosby has performed admirably and even led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, before getting knocked out by the Detroit Red Wings.

However, Crosby took the team the farthest it had gone since the team won the Stanley Cup in 1992, under the leadership of Penguins’ icon Mario Lemieux.

Setting the bar so high meant Pittsburgh fans would expect even more this season, and though Crosby’s 2008-2009 campaign can’t be labeled a failure by any stretch of the mind, it’s been somewhat bittersweet.

Crosby’s numbers still rank amongst the top in the NHL, but with the Penguins in danger of missing the playoffs completely, all eyes are again on “Sid the Kid” to lead this team through this difficult time.

Fans are looking for Crosby to shoot the Penguins back into the post-season success they enjoyed last season.

The truth is that Crosby is alone, even while playing on team with young stars like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, he’s still expected to be the Gretzky-like player everyone wants him to be.

Which is quite frankly ridiculous to start with.

Gretzky’s prime was when he played for an Edmonton Oiler team that averaged over 400 goals a season—compared to the Penguins accumulating about half of that over the last few seasons.

Gretzky also played in an NHL that hasn’t been the same since—so enough with the Crosby-Gretzky comparison already.

Whether you love him, or hate him, or you’re somewhere in between, it’s common knowledge that Crosby is an amazing talent and it’s simply unfair to ask so much of anyone, be it a rookie or veteran.

At 21, Crosby has still got a great deal of hockey left to play, and even though he’ll most likely never catch up to Gretzky in points—neither will anyone else.

If he doesn't catch Gretzky, that doesn’t mean that he’s not one of the best damn players that the Great White North has ever produced.