This is the last in a series of profiles about six Penguins prospects who attended this year’s rookie orientation camp.
Sidney Crosby stood outside the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine on a sultry August afternoon after Pittsburgh Penguins rookie orientation. The air was thick with humidity and beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
“Wow, it’s hot, eh?” he asked. “It’s definitely not hot like this at home. We usually get a pretty good breeze off the water. Hopefully, the temperature lowers for training camp.”
There’s little chance of that happening.
Ever since the ping-pong balls at the NHL Draft Drawing determined Crosby’s destination, Penguins fans have had an incessant fever. It grows day by day as Crosby’s selection as the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft spurned a hockey rebirth in Pittsburgh.
And, following Crosby like hockey’s Pied Piper, elite players are lining up to join the Penguins: Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy and John LeClair – to name a few.
The end result: A highly skilled team with a good mix of quality rookies and experienced and talented veterans that is poised to take the NHL by storm.
“I am really lucky. A lot of guys in similar situations that have been drafted high often go to teams that are rebuilding,” Crosby said. “I am going to a team that has some great veterans and great youth as well, so it’s a great mix for me. I feel very fortunate to be in that situation. I know I have the opportunity to learn a lot. I am going to try to take advantage of that.”
While many were on the edge of their seats waiting to learn what team would win the right to draft hockey’s best prospect since the Penguins’ Mario Lemieux, Crosby already had a feeling he was going to Pittsburgh.
“I had my own little lottery with my trainer (Andy O’Brien) three days before the draft. We picked numbers from 1-30 and each guy got 15 numbers and that’s what pick you got in the draft,” Crosby explained. “He picked the 15 I thought I’d go to and I picked the 15 I thought I’d go to. I took Pittsburgh with my first pick. I was looking at the percentages with the ping-pong balls and I picked Pittsburgh.”
When it was announced the Penguins got the first pick, Crosby was shocked. And, he immediately got a little hungry.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had that sheet of paper with my picks with me because we made a bet on dinner,” said Crosby with a laugh. “So, I got a free dinner and I got to go to Pittsburgh, so it worked out pretty well for me.”
Before he can live up to the lofty expectations given to him by the hockey world, Crosby, who is 18, just wants to adapt to the life in the NHL.
“My immediate goal is to raise my game to this level. I know it’s going to be an adjustment period there,” he said. “So my goal is to work as hard as I can. Once I am at this level, from there I will be able to judge what I can do and where I fit. The first goal is just getting myself to this level.”
Crosby, an offensive dynamo, knows opponents will do anything possible to make him uncomfortable and limit his world-class playmaking ability. But, that’s nothing new – he has fought through that his entire career.
“You just have to play through it. A lot of guys’ jobs are to take other guys out of their games,” he said. “My job is to make sure I am making things happen offensively and creating opportunities, so that is my job and I have to find ways to do it just like another guy has to stop me. You just have to make sure you’re focused on your own job.”
Mainly a center, Crosby has played right wing in the past year, too. He will probably end up centering a line in Pittsburgh.
“I have no idea where they will put me. It will depend on other guys, too,” he said. “Either center or right wing, I am fine. I have become used to both. I think I will be comfortable at either position.”
Crosby has enough awards and accomplishments to fill up Mellon Arena, but his fondest memory is helping Team Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January. It was at this tournament, dominated by 18- and 19-year-olds, that Crosby, who was 17 at the time, matured.
“I think anytime you go through an experience like that and win, you just learn what it takes and learn how hard it is to be the best,” he said. “I played with a lot of great guys – it’s probably one of the most talented teams to ever play World Juniors. I learned a lot from those guys as players and people.”
His development only continues.
“I think I have just become more experienced and more mature. Physically, I am just bigger, faster and stronger,” Crosby said. “I have just tried to improve on being an all-around player. I really made the commitment to making sure I am an all-around player and someone who is reliable not just in the offensive zone, but defensively as well.”