Draft Day. Four years ago the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted the player they hoped would be the next Mario Lemieux. Could this player pack fans in the Mellon Arena? Would he "WOW" and excite the crowd? Was he the player that would dominate in the NHL the way he did in Junior Hockey? Would the Stanley Cup come to Pittsburgh in the next five or six years?
Sidney Crosby. Loved or hated, he is the most recognizable face in the NHL today. The media, scouts and even Wayne Gretzky hyped Sid the Kid as a player with potential to put up super star numbers. "A player that could raise a sinking franchise." "The long awaited savior to boost ticket sales of a struggling organization." "A player capable of putting up Gretzky or Lemieux type numbers." These were the type of quotes being printed or broadcast about this young hockey player.
So it was, when for the first time in NHL history a lottery took place involving all thirty teams to determine the draft order in 2005. On that day the Pittsburgh Penguins were blessed by the hockey gods and got the number one pick, Sidney Crosby. Draft day was a media gem, as film crews and photographers got countless shots of Crosby with his owner, teammate and Hall of Famer, Mario Lemieux.
Pittsburgh fans were already dreaming of another Stanley Cup. And the sooner the better. In Pittsburgh, having experienced multiple Champions in football, hockey and baseball, nothing short of the Cup would satisfy. A lot of expectations for an 18 year old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Would Crosby be able to meet all these expectations? Some of the most gifted amateur players have been expected to perform better in the NHL then they actually do. Lets take a look at a few former Number One selections.
In 1993 the Ottawa Senators selected Alexander Daigle number one, in 616 games he scored 327 points posting a season high of 51 three different seasons(wow..). In 1999 the Atlanta Thrashers selected Patrick Stefan, he is retired after playing 455 games and scoring 188 points. In 1991 the Quebec Nordiques selected Eric Lindros number one and he refused to play for them. He went on to have an injury plagued career for several teams suffering many concussions and never really living up to the hype. So was Crosby going to meet the high expectations or be another average player or worse, a complete bust.The level of play in the NHL is so much higher than the Junior or college levels where these draft picks come from. It is hard to tell how players will grow and adapt.
In Crosby's first year the Penguins had a disappointing season in which they brought in several veteran players to join Lemieux and Crosby. The team never found any chemistry, Lemieux retired again after a heart condition was diagnosed and Crosby went on to score 102 points. The youngest player to get over one hundred in a season.
In his second season, 06-07, on Oct. 28 Crosby scores his first Hat Trick against the interstate rival Philadelphia Flyers. Sid the Kid went on to score 120 points to lead the NHL in scoring with Joe Thorton a distant second with 114 points. He was the youngest to win the Hart Trophy and the Lester P. Pearson Award. Sidney was also named "Captain" of the Penguins, the youngest captain ever, at that time. The Penguins made the playoffs only to be ousted by the Ottawa Senators in five games. Sidney, along with a talented young core were definitely improving but it was a sobering reality to experience the strenuous competition in NHL playoff hockey.
In his third season, 07-08, Crosby's numbers dropped due to an injury. After playing in only 53 regular season games he scored only 72 points. The Penguins made the playoffs being carried by another all star, Evgini Malkin. In the playoffs Sidney scored 27 points in 20 games before losing to the Redwings in the Finals. Those 27 playoff points tied him with the Conne Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg. The Redwings were the dominant team defeating Crosby and the Penguins for the Cup. The Penguins looked very strong in winning all of the series up to the final which Sidney Crosby was a big part.
In his fourth season, 08-09, Crosby finished third in regular season points with 103. He ranked 20th in goals with 33 and 2nd in assists with 70. In the post season Sid recorded his first post-season hat trick on May 4th in a loss to the Washington Capitals. The Penguins went on to win the series in seven games. In game seven at Washington Crosby has 2 goals and an assist as the Penguins win 6-2.
The Penguins of course go on to win the Stanley Cup in a rematch from last year against the Detroit Redwings. In the playoffs Crosby has 31 points, second only to his teammate Evgini Malkin. He leads the league in playoff goals with 15(not bad for a guy not known as a "goal scorer"). And he is second in assists to Malkin with 16. The Redwings were the most successful in shutting down Crosby with Zetterburg, Lidstrom and Rafalski whenever they could match them against him. Crosby had only 1 goal and 2 assists in the final series, although he didn't play most of game 7.
This year has had even some Pittsburgh fans claiming Malkin is the better player. Mostly Malkin does look stronger skating with the puck. The overall numbers for the season put Malkin ahead but not by much. When it is all said and done Pittsburgh is very lucky to have them both. Crosby, having more media responsibilities has had to mature faster on and off the ice. He has made Pittsburgh very proud of their adopted son.
Only four years. Four years from drafted rookie to Stanley Cup winning Captain. Four years of constant media interviews, "booing" and worse in opposing arenas, critics pointing out every fault, and still Crosby comes through with grace and poise in front of the camera and behind the microphone. He has matured into a Champion at age 21.
Not bad for a kid from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.