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Learning From a Legend: Crosby Schools Yager on Faceoffs



Brayden Yager

CRANBERRY — Sidney Crosby’s game didn’t have many flaws, let alone glaring ones, when he broke into the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.

One exception was a conspicuous weakness on faceoffs, as Crosby won just 45.5 percent of his draws during his rookie season.

That placed him 11th on the team, behind the likes of Eric Boguniecki, Lasse Pirjeta and John LeClair in that stat.

But Crosby, who seemed to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward mediocrity in any facet of his game when he was a child, made a point of upgrading that aspect of it, and has improved to the point that he controlled 53 percent of his faceoffs in 2022-23.

He’s become so proficient, in fact, that Brayden Yager, the Penguins’ first-round draft pick this June, sought some personal instruction from Crosby after Day 2 of training camp Friday.

“I got to talk with Sid a little bit and took some draws with him,” Yager said Saturday.

He promptly got a first-hand feel for how proficient Crosby has become on them.

“I think I won, maybe, two out of 10,” Yager said. “Him giving me some tips was definitely helpful for me, and something I’ll take with me moving forward.”

Crosby’s advice on winning faceoffs is just one of the lessons Yager has picked up during his first NHL training camp.

Once he got over the excitement of sharing a slab of ice with some high-profile veterans, Yager has tried to absorb everything he could from them, on and off the ice.

He acknowledged that “coming into this, just kind of getting over the ‘wow factor’ of being on the ice with Sid and (Kris) Letang and all of those guys, (Evgeni) Malkin and (Erik) Karlsson” was a challenge, but said those players have been welcoming to him.

“Just talking to them, they’re super-nice,” he said. “That was easier than I expected, just being able to feel comfortable around those guys. That’s a credit to them, for making me feel welcome. I try to follow them around as much as I can, without being annoying.”

There is, after all, much that he can pick up from observing the details of those veterans’ daily lives.

“Just the way they approach every day, their eating habits, recovery after practice and scrimmages,” Yager said. “Just watching how they take care of themselves, especially off the ice, is something I can take away from this.”

Yager will play in the front end of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ exhibition, home-and-away doubleheader against Columbus Sunday, set for 1 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena. He realizes that game will be different from what he has experienced with his junior team, Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League.

“It’s definitely faster,” he said. “The puck moves around a lot quicker and the passes are all super-crisp and tape-to-tape. Obviously, there are a lot bigger guys.”

Although there’s probably nothing Yager can do in however many preseason appearances he makes to convince management that he should be on the Opening Night roster — the Penguins’ depth chart at center is crowded, with Crosby and Malkin atop it — he knows the kind of impression he would like to make on GM Kyle Dubas and his staff with his performance.

“Just show them that I’m going to be good in this league one day, show that I can adjust to the pace,” Yager said. “Show them that, in the future, I can be a good player in this league.”

Even if he never gets to be as good as that center the Pittsburgh Penguins had drafted in the first round 18 years earlier.