Sidney Crosby has no time to be nervous, overwhelmed or awed by anything on a hockey rink.
His name was known across North America years before he finally became the first pick in the lockout-delayed 2005 NHL draft. Facing comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and other greats didn't rattle him. He met all the pressure and expectations with a shrug of the shoulders, letting his exquisite ability bolster the arguments.
Just two months after turning 20, Crosby is set to take on another challenge. When he hits the ice with the rest of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Friday at Carolina, the reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion will do so after becoming the youngest captain in league history.
"I don't really think about it to be honest," Crosby said of the hype that has surrounded him for years. "I think I'm always looking ahead, worrying about the present, but also looking ahead and trying to be better."
Good luck with that. It'll be hard to improve on his incredibly impressive first two years in the league.
Facing the most attention and anticipation since Eric Lindros entered the NHL in 1992, Crosby rushed in and put up 39 goals and 102 points in a season that would've good enough to capture top rookie honors in most years. Alex Ovechkin edged him for the award by scoring 52 goals and 106 points for Washington.
Undeterred, Crosby stepped it up last season. His goal total dipped a bit to 36, but his assists rose to 84 and he carried the Penguins into the playoffs after they finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference during his rookie campaign.
Saddled with the burden of being the face of a franchise that was in danger of leaving Pittsburgh, Crosby made the Penguins matter again. That earned him the MVP award after becoming the youngest scoring champion in NHL history and the first teenager in major pro team sports history to capture such a title.
"Not only is he is identified with a tremendous skill set and a great way he plays the game, but he also has the mind to match that," New York Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "He also keeps his balance. He understands that this could be over tomorrow, and never takes anything for granted.
"That's another thing that makes Sidney pretty special. It's phenomenal."
Crosby might not be the fish that saved Pittsburgh, but he can be credited with rescuing the Penguins.
"I have to focus on the things that are really important and I don't think it's really important to worry about that too much," Crosby said. "I have to worry about what I have to do, life in general, so I'm not too worried about it."
His arrival couldn't have come at a better time for the league. After a lost season due to the lockout, Crosby burst on the scene. No longer was he just the phenom from Nova Scotia, now he is the guy looked upon to lead the NHL's rebirth.
"It's got to be hard, especially being his age," said New York Islanders forward Mike Comrie, who played with Crosby on Team Canada. "He's got a lot of the weight of the NHL on his shoulders. It's not fair to put that kind of pressure or expect a kid to handle that, but he does it. He's a player that hopefully a lot of kids look up to.
"It's amazing. You think he's going to stumble, but he just doesn't."
Shortly after the Penguins lost to Ottawa in five games last season during their first playoff appearance since 2001, Crosby took over as captain. To further strengthen the star center's position as team leader, Pittsburgh reached agreement with Crosby on a five-year extension that kicks in next year and lasts through the 2012-13 season.
Crosby took the scoring lead last season on Dec. 13 with a six-point night against Philadelphia. He never had a stretch after that where he went more than three games without a point.
The Penguins won 47 games, amassed 105 points and created expectations that the Stanley Cup could soon return to Pittsburgh for the first time since the days of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the early 1990s.
"Obviously it's easy to say yes, we are ready," Crosby said. "But a lot of good teams don't make the playoffs. We have to, first of all, make sure we're fighting and battling to get to the playoffs. We know our division's gotten stronger. We got to make sure that we're ready from the start.
"Just to get the taste of the playoffs, I think we really needed that. So when the opportunity comes again, we'll know the situation and be a little bit more familiar with it."