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Young Stars Collide

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche fans will be treated to some of the National Hockey League’s brightest young stars on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Pepsi Center.

Reigning NHL MVP Sidney Crosby leads a rejuvenated Penguins team – which also boasts 2006-07 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin and Calder runner-up Jordan Staal –  into Colorado to face the Avalanche and its young stars, including  Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski.

While the Pittsburgh trio will be making their first trip to the Mile High City, the Avalanche isn’t entirely unfamiliar with Crosby, the Pittsburgh phenom.

During Crosby’s 2005-06 rookie campaign, Colorado traveled to Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena to face the Penguins for a Dec. 10 match-up. Crosby recorded an assist during that game in a 4-3 Penguins victory.

Since that contest nearly two years ago, Crosby has enjoyed an incredible amount of success.

A season ago, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native cleaned up at the NHL’s year-end awards, claiming the Art Ross Trophy (NHL’s top scorer), Lester B. Pearson Award (Most Outstanding Player as voted on by the NHL Players Association.) and Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP). He was also named to the NHL First All-Star Team after leading the league with 120 points (36g/84a).

Paul Stastny finished second to Evgeni Malkin in voting for last year's Calder Trophy
“Obviously Crosby is in a league of his own,” said Stastny, who finished second to Malkin in last year’s Calder voting. “Anytime you have a chance to play against someone that talented, you enjoy the moment, but you have to compete and try to outdo them.”

As for the other Pittsburgh youngsters, Malkin led all rookies in scoring with 85 points (33g/52a) during the 2006-07 campaign, while Staal notched 29 goals to go along with 13 assists during his first NHL season. Staal also led the NHL and set a rookie record with a shooting percentage of 22.1%.

“Pittsburgh is a team we don’t get to see much, so we're excited to get a chance to see Sidney and some of the best young players in the game," said Avalanche head coach Joel Quenneville. "I think everyone around town has been talking and targeting this game as a special night. We have a lot of respect for the whole lineup.”

On the home bench, Stastny and Wolski are no slouches themselves. A season ago, Stastny notched 78 points (28g/50a) and reeled off an NHL rookie-record 20-game point streak from Feb. 3 to March 17. As an encore, Stastny scored a hat trick on the opening night of the 2007-08 campaign and followed that up with a five-point effort on Oct. 7 against San Jose. For his efforts, the 21-year-old was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the league’s opening weekend.

Wolski enjoyed a fine first season of his own in 2006-07, finishing fourth among league rookies with 50 points (22g/28a) in 76 games. He and Stastny became only the third rookie duo since the 1993-94 season to both reach 50 points.

Wojtek Wolski ranked fourth among NHL rookies with 50 points last season
This season, Stastny, Crosby and Malkin all rank among the NHL’s top-20 scorers through Monday’s games, with Stastny totaling 15 points (5g/10a) in 11 games and both Crosby (4g/9a) and Malkin (3g/10a) tallying 13 points in 10 contests.

It’s not often that hockey fans can see four of the last six finalists for the Calder trophy on the same sheet of ice, but it’s something Avalanche fans will have the privilege of watching on Thursday night.

“It will be like the future of the NHL out there,” said Stastny. “Pittsburgh will be a fun team to play against. They have a lot of skilled players and play at a fast pace, so it should be an entertaining game for the fans.”
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