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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

As we near the end of the 2005-06 regular season, many people agree that Sidney Crosby has not only met expectations – he’s exceeded them.

Crosby is in the midst of one of the most-productive rookie seasons in Penguins franchise history. The 18-year-old super rookie has 34 goals, 51 assists and 85 points in 73 games.

“To me, he’s exceeded expectations. I am pretty impressed, to say the least,” Penguins radio play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald said. “You don’t really know what kind of player a kid is going to be at the age of 18 coming into this league. Despite all the hype, there is still an adjustment period the player has to go through. You look at a guy like Joe Thornton – you see how dominant he is now. He really struggled when he first came into the league and he’s a big, tall guy with a long reach. You can’t predict that a kid is going to come in and generate that kind of production.”

Crosby has seemed comfortable in the NHL from Day One.

“I am pretty happy with my first season,” he said. “I just wanted to come here and adjust and feel comfortable and I think I’ve done that since I got here.”

He has excelled in his first season. He ranks among the league’s top-10 scorers. And, he is second in the NHL with three overtime goals.

“The big thing is his progress all season long,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “For an 18-year-old kid, you have to be pleased with the way he has progressed.”

Crosby is not far off the rookie scoring pace of former teammate Mario Lemieux. In 1984-85, Mario’s first NHL season, the 19-year-old Lemieux had 43 goals, 57 assists and 100 points through his first 73 games.

Crosby averages 1.16 points per game. If he maintains that pace through the Penguins’ last 8 games, he would wind up with just under 93 points. That would rank him in the top eight all-time of NHL rookie season scoring.

At this point, Crosby probably won’t win the rookie scoring title. As of April 3, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (48+47) has an 10-point lead over Crosby.

Despite that margin, the difference between isn’t that great.

Consider this: The 20-year-old Ovechkin has a two-year age difference over Crosby. In addition, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 379 shots – 46 more than leading scorer Jaromir Jagr – and is converting at a 12.7-percent rate. Meanwhile, Crosby has just 249 shots, but is more accurate as he finds the back of the net 13.7 percent of the time.

If you give Crosby 130 more shots to equal Ovechkin’s total, it projects about 10 more goals to Crosby’s statistics, which would put him at 95 points (44+51) – tied with Ovechkin for the year.

“At the beginning of the year, they were talking about how Ovechkin doesn’t have any good players around him and Sid does,” Steigerwald said. “As it turned out, Sid had good players around him, but [Ziggy] Palffy’s heart wasn’t really in it and Mario was hurt. All these things went wrong for the Pens, yet he continued to play with resolve and continue to do what he could do and play his game. You have to give him credit for that.”

Crosby’s impact isn’t limited to scoring. The versatile centerman has killed penalties and improved dramatically on his face-off skills this year.

“He is really reliable defensively. For a centerman, we put him in a lot of pressure situations, but he responds really well on the ice,” Therrien said. “He has a great work ethic and he’s a great leader on the ice with his work ethic. He wants to get better.”

Despite Crosby’s success, the Penguins have struggled as a team with only 51 points through their first 74 games. Regardless, Crosby and his teammates remain dedicated to daily improvement.

“I think it’s been kind of a tribute to everyone to make sure that we keep the energy and stay motivated and keep having fun,” Crosby said. “That’s what I try to do and I think for most of us here, we’ve done that and tried to stay positive about everything. It has to be fun when you’re out there. Obviously, losing is not fun, but when we go out there and do our jobs, it’s going to make it a little easier after games knowing that we did leave it all out there.”

Even though the season is almost over, Crosby refuses to relax and constantly works to get better.

“He is the leader of the young players because he is the best player. He works harder than anybody,” Steigerwald said. “He is the last guy off the ice at practice. He plays with a level of passion and determination that is infectious. That’s what you want. If your best player is your hardest-working player, that’s all you can ask for because they lead by example.”

As the top player in the team’s large core of young talent, Crosby looks for good things next season. But, he’ll think more about that over the summer.

“You don’t want to look too far past this season. For me, I want to finish the best I can and have the best season possible, then think about next year,” he said. “You want to play a complete season, that’s the goal. No matter if it’s your first year or your 10th, you want to play a complete season. That’s something that’s always in my mind.”



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