Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has built a large fan base during his 11 NHL seasons, among them Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky, who told Sportsnet on Monday that he's marveled at Crosby's play during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I watch him play a lot because I admire the way he plays," Gretzky said. "It's not a big secret. I think he's the best player in the game. He just sees the game the right way; he always has. He's on a different level when he's playing like he is right now."
Entering Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), Crosby has six goals and 17 points in 21 playoff games.
Gretzky, who won the Stanley Cup four times as captain of the Edmonton Oilers and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 with the Los Angeles Kings, leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 382 points in 208 games. Crosby is 37th on the list, third among active players, with 135 points in 121 playoff games. He's playing in his third Cup Final but his first since winning the Cup in 2009.
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"I think for the Penguins to be back in the Final after a few years of not being there, they know just how much it means to them and how important it is," Gretzky said. "I think for [Crosby] personally, this probably means as much or more than even the first one did."
Though Crosby does not have a goal through three Cup Final games, he has two assists and has won 59.1 percent of his faceoffs, the second-best mark of any player who has taken more than three in the series.
"Personally I don't worry if a guy goes two or three games without a goal," Gretzky said. "It's how he's performing and how he's playing to help his team be successful and he's definitely done that. He's been, I think, terrific. … He just took his play to another level."
Crosby's clean faceoff win in overtime of Game 2 helped set up Conor Sheary's goal at 2:35. Leading 1-0 in Game 1, Crosby won a race and made a backhand cross-ice pass that became the primary assist on Sheary's first-period goal.
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"What Sid has is a little bit of an extra gear as far as his passing ability, his playmaking ability, the ability to make players around him on his team that much better," Gretzky said. "Guys like Bobby Orr did it, and Mario [Lemieux] did it, and obviously Crosby's doing it. He's just making his team better."