'The Next One' Has Been Chosen: Crosby Goes No. 1

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

OTTAWA, July 30 -- Within moments of the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the NHL entry draft lottery eight days ago, the club's phone lines lit up, then nearly crashed under the strain of calls suddenly flooding the front office.

Fans of the franchise that has come to epitomize the league's economic woes were clamoring for season tickets, wanting to reserve their rink-side seat at the Igloo to see a 17-year-old forward who hasn't scored a single NHL goal, but has already drawn comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Gretzky was "the Great One." Sidney Crosby is being called "the Next One." Crosby officially became a Penguin on Saturday afternoon, when Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed what everyone already knew. Lemieux, the Penguins' player-owner, greeted the No. 1 overall pick on the stage in the ballroom of a downtown hotel here and handed him a black No. 87 jersey.

The symbolism of the moment was hard to ignore, as one of the game's ambassadors extended his hand to a future one, a former No. 1 pick welcoming the latest.

"He's going to create a lot of excitement around the league, especially in Pittsburgh," Lemieux said. "We've seen that ticket sales are booming. People are excited. It's really going to help us bring back the fans."

"This is going to be a big piece of the puzzle going forward," he added. "He's got all the tools to be a great, great player in this league and have a great career."

Crosby said his goal is simply to crack the Penguins' lineup next season. Everyone else's expectations of him, it seems, are considerably higher.

Following a 10-month labor dispute that wiped out the 2004-05 season and alienated the league's already thinning base of fans and sponsors, the NHL desperately needs the smooth-skating Nova Scotia native to rescue it from the verge of irrelevancy.

The Penguins, meantime, hope Crosby can deliver them from the edge of extinction, much the way Lemieux, 39, did. The two could play alongside one another this season.

"I look at it as a challenge," said Crosby, who wears No. 87 because of his birth date: Aug. 7, 1987. "I'm not going to put too much added pressure on myself. I want to play in the NHL, and after that [happens], I can worry about things beyond that."

Asked about the prospect of having Crosby live with him next season, Lemieux joked, "You mean have another kid?" Lemieux already has four of his own, but will likely -- if it hasn't happened already -- invite Crosby to move in.

"I'd love to have the opportunity to do that," Crosby said. "Obviously I'm going to be a rookie, so I'm going to try to learn as much as a I can, be open-minded. And be a student. . . . I'm going to learn from one of the best guys in Mario Lemieux. So I'm going to try and be a sponge in that way and learn as much as I can from him."

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