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CROSBY ENJOYING PRODUCTIVE ROOKIE SEASON FOR PENGUINS

Sunday, 12.11.2005 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
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CROSBY ENJOYING PRODUCTIVE ROOKIE SEASON FOR PENGUINS

Through one-third of his first NHL season, Sidney Crosby leads the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring.

He also is on pace for one of the franchise’s most-productive rookie seasons as well.

Through 29 games, Crosby leads the Penguins with 13 goals and 30 points. His 17 assists are second on the squad. In addition, Crosby remains among the NHL rookie scoring leaders.

Not bad for an 18-year-old.

“I have been pretty happy with [my start],” said Crosby, the 2005 first-overall pick. “I didn’t have any expectations [this year]. I didn’t know what I was going to be able to do. I just wanted to come in and adjust to this level. I was lucky it didn’t take long and I got comfortable quickly. I still think I have a lot of room to improve. I was happy I was able to adapt and feel comfortable early.”

Crosby has given the Penguins plenty of unforgettable highlights including his first NHL goal Oct. 8 at home against Boston; his dramatic overtime shootout goal to beat the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 10 and his game-winning breakaway goal that beat the Flyers in overtime in Philadelphia on Nov. 16.

So, how does Crosby’s start compare to those of all-time greats Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky?

Through his first 29 NHL games, an 18-year-old Gretzky had 15 goals, 30 assists and 45 points for Edmonton in the 1979-80 season. He finished with 137 points (51+86) in 80 games for a 1.7 points-per-game average.

Lemieux, who was 19 during his NHL rookie season with the Penguins in 1984-85, racked up 11 goals, 30 assists and 41 points in his first 29 games. Lemieux finished with 100 points (43+57) in 73 games for a 1.4 points-per-game average.

Crosby isn’t that far off. His approximate 1.0 points-per-game average projects him to tally around 85 points if he plays the entire 82-game schedule.

“I have a long ways to go before I can compare myself to guys like that,” Crosby said. “To compare me to Gretzky and Lemieux it’s a little early for that. I have a lot to prove before I am at that level.”

Nevertheless, the two hockey legends are quite impressed with Crosby.

Lemieux has taken Crosby under his wing as the young phenom resides with the Lemieux family. The two Penguins often find themselves on the ice at the same time during power plays.

“He’s quite amazing,” Lemieux said. “I have said it many times – some of the things he does on the ice are amazing.”

Meanwhile, Gretzky, the Phoenix Coyotes’ coach, doesn’t get a chance to watch Crosby as much as he’d like to since the Coyotes and Penguins are in different conferences and don’t play each other this season.

Still, Gretzky has seen enough to know Crosby is a very special talent.

“He’s been wonderful. He’s played better than his hype,” Gretzky told ESPN. “He handles himself well. He’s been a tremendous addition to the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins.”

Gretzky has followed Crosby’s development closely throughout the past five years or so. At one point, Gretzky was quoted as saying he could foresee Crosby breaking his NHL scoring records – 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points.

“At 13, I knew he was the real deal,” Gretzky said.

Crosby draws the most comparisons to Gretzky both in stature – Gretzky is 6-foot, 185 pounds, while Crosby is 5-11, 193 – and in style of play.

“It’s hard to compare players,” Gretzky said. “He sees the ice like I did at that age. He goes to the net and draws penalties like I did at his age, too.”

However, Crosby has one advantage over Gretzky – he has Lemieux as a mentor.

“He’s really lucky to have a guy like Mario to show him and lead him,” Gretzky said.

Gretzky knows Crosby’s impact isn’t just limited to the ice. He’s helping form the new face of the NHL.

“Everything he is doing is great. He’s helping market and sell the game and the Penguins,” he said. “The bottom line is that his top priority always has to be the Penguins and playing hockey.”

There’s no doubt about that.

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