The Pittsburgh Penguins expected an awful lot from Sidney Crosby when they ended up with his rights in the NHL’s 2005 draft lottery.
He ended up giving them much, much more than they ever could have hoped for.
A 102-point season as a rookie. A competitive fire and leadership qualities that made it clear there was a captaincy in his near future. A tireless commitment to promoting the franchise and the league, which was coming off a lockout that had wiped out the 2004-2005 season.
Crosby couldn’t get the Penguins into the Stanley Cup playoffs — hey, he was a teenaged hockey prodigy, not a miracle worker — but that was the only real blemish on his first season here. (Unless, of course, the Derian Hatcher high stick that knocked out a few of his teeth left a permanent mark.)
He proved to be everything the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted. And needed. And more.
In the process of launching a career that will culminate in his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Crosby established a template of sorts for Connor Bedard, the highly celebrated prospect who will be charged with rejuvenating the Chicago Blackhawks during the season that begins next week.
Although Crosby said he has only a passing acquaintance with Bedard — “I wouldn’t say (I know him) ‘very well,’ but I know him to say, ‘Hi” — he is a charter member of the club of club of exceptional young talents who have been counted on to revive a formerly great NHL franchise since the turn of the century. The roll call for that group: Crosby, Connor McDavid and Bedard.
Crosby is, then, well-positioned to offer some guidance to Bedard on how he should approach his first season in the NHL, which will begin with a visit to PPG Paints Arena Oct. 10.
It’s not tips on taking faceoffs or beating goaltenders (or rebounding from an intentional stick to the mouth, for that matter), but simply that Bedard should try to absorb all that he sees and experiences.
“Just enjoy it,” Crosby said. “I still remember so much of my first year, all these years later. Going into buildings for the first time, cities. Playing against guys every night that you were watching the year before. You get up for that challenge, but also, you want to enjoy it, because you only have that first year once, and there’s so much that’s so cool about it. He’s going to want to do well, but (he should) try to enjoy it as much as he can.”
Oh, and there’s one other thing. Something Crosby failed to do when he arrived in the NHL.
Learn to say “No” every now and then.
Crosby rarely — if ever — did. He did everything team officials asked to promote the franchise, and sat dutifully in his locker after every practice and game, answering reporters’ questions on every subject that could be imagined. And a few that probably couldn’t be.
He wishes now that he’d taken a little more time for himself.
“Maybe I would have said ‘No,’ a little bit more,” Crosby said. “There were a lot of demands, as far as interviews. You become pretty busy, not just on the ice, but off the ice. You put a lot of pressure on yourself, as it is. He’s got a lot of pressure, but I’m sure he puts a lot on himself. That’s probably the pressure that he feels the most.
“Just finding a way to manage that, but you don’t really know until you go through it, It’s easy to say that, all these years later. Maybe I would have said ‘No’ a little bit more and had some more time just to not be as hectic that first year, but it’s easier said than done sometimes.”
Bedard, as Crosby had been nearly two decades earlier, was recognized universally as the top talent in his draft class. Consequently, he’s accustomed to the stresses and demands of being the central figure on his team.
“That’s just what he’s used to,” Crosby said. “He’s had expectations for a long time. That becomes the new norm, really. It’s difficult to scale it, but … it’s pressure. There’s expectations, but that’s something he’s had to handle for a long time, so I’m sure he understands that. It’s going to be a learning process, but he’s handled it really well.”
Everything about Bedard to date suggests that he will thrive in the NHL, maybe even lead the Blackhawks to glories rivaling those of the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane era. Crosby seems to feel he’s capable of having a profound impact.
“I think he’s a mature kid,” Crosby said. “He’s been under the spotlight for a while now. I think he’s handled it really well. He’s confident in his ability. Every time he’s been challenged or there’s been pressure on him, I think he’s always raised his level. It’s been impressive to see the way he’s handled himself.”
So far, anyway. The very lofty standard for doing that over the course of an entire season was set 18 years ago.