Any casual fan of hockey is well aware of Sidney Crosby and his story. The buildup to his arrival at the top level was on par with the anticipation for Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux's debuts. Much to his credit, Crosby met the enormous expectations head on and began writing what was sure to be a storied career.
With a Stanley Cup in hand and his talents turning the NHL into his own personal playground, Crosby suffered concussion symptoms from hits to the head in consecutive games in January 2011. Initially, the prognosis was like most concussion-type injuries, but the weeks turned into months and with the delay in his return came questions about the new trajectory of his career.
The NHL was in danger of losing another face of the league that was having their skills reduced by head-related injuries. Eric Lindros had suffered a similar fate that led to the decline of a player who had everything to offer in terms of size and skill. With Crosby's injury, many around the NHL could be heard holding their collective breath, as the player whose image was at the forefront of the NHL's marketing and popularity had a huge question mark hanging over his future.
Now over two years removed from the concussions that cost him so much time, Crosby appears to be back to the level he was before that fateful January. Averaging 1.6 points per game through 33 games this season, Crosby is at the same pace he was in January 2011.
With him playing back to the level he was at before the injuries, the question remains as to if Crosby can raise his game to greater heights. At 25 years old, he is entering the prime years of his career. Most players seem have their peak seasons between the ages of 25 and 30.
If Crosby is to put up even greater numbers during this "prime" stretch, it will most likely come in the form of a higher shooting percentage. In 2009 and 2010, Crosby had shooting percentages of 17.1% and 19.9% respectively. This season his shooting percentage is at 12.5%, a number closer to the 14% Crosby has hovered around in most seasons (stats per NHL.com). This is the one area Crosby can make an improvement concerning his point output.
A factor that gives Crosby the opportunity to thrive during this period is the Penguins organization. With the team they have put together, Crosby will be playing with a very good supporting cast. This helps take pressure off of him, as he knows his line mates can finish his passes or provide him the service he needs.
Faces from year to year can change, but what the current Penguins management has shown is that it is willing to bring in the players needed to keep the team competing for the cup. This mindset will keep the skill level of players on the ice comparable or even better than the current squad as the team goes forward.
The potential career ceiling killer for Crosby is the concussions. Hockey is a physical, sometimes violent game. The number of hits a player takes per game has an accumulative effect on the body. Crosby may never suffer another concussion in his career. Even with the advances in helmets and the NHL crackdown on targeting the head, the contact he endures on a nightly basis increases the chances for another.
How his body reacts to another is the great unknown. As with Lindros, the onset of another concussion could rob fans of several prime years from NHL's best all-around player. Having suffered through multiple lockouts, injuries, and other health issues, fans have already missed out on some of the biggest stars creating memories.
Injury may be the only reason Sidney Crosby's career could possibly be at its peak. With his ability, dedication to working on his game, and the environment he is in, it is hard to imagine Crosby not taking his game to an even higher level. Here is to hoping the best is still ahead for Crosby.