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Connor McDavid: Facing Sidney Crosby going to be cool

Oilers, Penguins captains play against each other for first time Tuesday

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

The way he plays, the way he handles himself, the way he elevates the Edmonton Oilers, it's easy to forget that Connor McDavid is 19 years old. He has played 58 NHL games, because he missed three months because of a broken clavicle as a rookie last season. As good as he is, one of the top players in the NHL already, he's still experiencing new things, still learning, still growing.

McDavid will play against Sidney Crosby for the first time when the Oilers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ROOT, SNW, NHL.TV). It's No. 97 vs. No. 87, the Next One vs. Sid the Kid, the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft vs. the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NHL Draft. And McDavid talks about it like, well, a teenager. He doesn't call him Mr. Crosby, like he did the first time he met him three years ago, according to USA Today, but makes him sound like an old man at age 29.

"It's exciting for me," McDavid said. "He's someone I grew up idolizing, and for me it's going to be pretty cool."

McDavid said he continues to follow Crosby most nights he plays.

"He's the best player in the world, and if you can take anything from his game, obviously that'll help," McDavid said. "Definitely don't pattern yourself after him or anything like that, but you try and learn from things that gave him success."

Let's keep the comparisons in perspective: McDavid is 10 years behind Crosby and just getting started, while Crosby has accomplished so much in the NHL and remains at the highest level.

Video: EDM@VAN: McDavid shows off speed, finishes five-hole

Crosby has won the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion each twice, plus the Rocket Richard Trophy as NHL goal-scoring leader. He could have won each of them more often if not for injuries.

In the last five months he has won the Stanley Cup for the second time, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoffs most valuable player, the World Cup of Hockey 2016 with Team Canada and the World Cup MVP.

Despite missing the first six games of this season because of a concussion, Crosby is tied for the NHL lead in goals with eight in six games.

"If you can have half his success or even a quarter of his success, I think that's a pretty amazing career," McDavid said. "You know what he's been able to do and all the championships he's won. He's won basically everything there is to win. So definitely he's a pretty good guy to try and follow."

Video: PIT@SJS: Crosby puts second of the night past Jones

McDavid compares to Crosby closely in many ways and has something that separates him: speed. Crosby has elite speed, from his legs to his brain. McDavid is even faster, so fast that legendary coach Scotty Bowman, in multiple media interviews, has compared his acceleration to Bobby Orr's.

Through 58 NHL games, McDavid has 21 goals and 62 points. Through his first 58 NHL games, Crosby had 28 goals and 65 points.

And consider that McDavid has feasted less on the power play than Crosby did in his first 58 games, with three power-play goals to Crosby's 13, and those games have come in three chunks -- the beginning of last season before the broken clavicle, the end of last season and the beginning of this season -- while Crosby played 81 games as a rookie.

McDavid finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy last season, and could have won it if not for his injury. He could have won the World Cup with Team Canada had he been eligible. He captained Team North America, the team of players 23 and younger from Canada and the United States.

He entered his second NHL season with almost a half-season less experience than Crosby entered his second NHL season, when Crosby won his first Hart and Art Ross. Yet he is in both races in the early going with five goals and 14 points, three off the NHL lead.

Video: PIT@SJS: Crosby banks one in off Jones

What does he need to do to reach Crosby's level?

"At this point he probably just has to play, really," said forward Mark Letestu, who played with Crosby in Pittsburgh and plays with McDavid in Edmonton. "His skill set is so elite, his ability to skate. If he stays healthy and he plays, he's going to achieve a lot of these things that people think he's capable of."

McDavid's drive mirrors Crosby's. He has worked on the same things Crosby did as a young NHL center, like faceoffs, defense and dealing with NHL teams focused on shutting him down.

Listen to Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien describe Crosby, whom he coached early in his career: "He wants to get better in every aspect of the game. This is what I remember. He spent a lot of time on the ice. His work ethic was off the charts. He never wanted to take a day off. His attitude was great."

Now listen to Oilers coach Todd McLellan describe McDavid: "He wants to improve his game all over the place."

McDavid's demeanor mirrors Crosby's. He might be more mature than Crosby was when he was younger, at least more stoic at emotional moments on the ice. He became Oilers captain at age 19 years, 266 days, the youngest captain in NHL history. Crosby became Penguins captain at 19 years 297 days, the youngest at the time.

Video: CGY@EDM: McDavid dekes for goal on penalty shot

Listen to Therrien describe Crosby: "I think he's learned to be a leader, even if he was a captain at such a young age. This is something that he worked on. It didn't take him long to earn respect around the NHL. You end up earning respect around the NHL from your peers first of all by the way that you perform and the way that you play the game."

Now listen to McLellan, who coached Canada with Crosby as captain at the 2015 IIHF World Championship: "When they walk into the room they have a presence about them that's a very positive presence; not a demeaning presence, a very positive one. And then when the equipment goes on they play for real and they compete every shift every night. And that's not only game time; that's practice and preparation. I see a lot of similarities."

McDavid mirrors Crosby in another way that defines great players, in that the Oilers are starting to grow with him as the Penguins grew with Crosby. The Oilers were 29th in the NHL last season; this season they lead the Pacific Division at 9-3-1. The Penguins were 29th in the League in Crosby's rookie season; they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his second.

"Both have the ability to make everybody on their teams better," Letestu said. "They just raise that level, whether it's practice or games. The level of competition, the level of standard, just raises with what they bring."

It's going to be pretty cool indeed, Tuesday and beyond.

LNH.com Senior Managing Editor Arpon Basu contributed.

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