It was 2005, Sidney Crosby had just been taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft and was about to embark on his sensational NHL career. Already a household name in Canada, he got his introduction to the general public in the States the way many teen phenoms do: Late night television.
Calm and composed, sporting a gray pinstripe suit, he sat down next to Rob Schneider and coolly answered questions from Jay Leno. They talked about his coming visit to Pittsburgh for the first time, watched old video clips of Crosby scoring goals as a kid and told the story of endless shooting practice sessions on his mom's dryer.
When Crosby mentioned that he'd be living with Mario Lemieux, Schneider jumped in.
"What's his dryer like?" the former SNL cast member joked.
After firing a couple of shots on a dryer Leno had brought out, the segment ended. All in all it was pretty good television.
When the show was wrapped up, Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, was leaving and Leno came over to him, patted him on the shoulder and let him know how impressed he was with the kid, explaining that many young athletes stick to yes or no answers during interviews.
"He made it entertaining," Leno said on the way out. "You can bring that kid back any time you want."
Brisson tells that story to illustrate a point. Crosby has always been mature for his age. He's been in the spotlight for most of his life and has always handled it exceedingly well.
"When he was 13, he was talking like an 18-year-old," Brisson said.
So Brisson is careful with the notion that Crosby is more mature now because he's always been mature.
But something is definitely different.
He's had great stretches of play before during his career. He led the NHL with 120 points in his second season. He had a league-best 51 goals in 2009-10. Right before his Winter Classic concussion, Crosby had a 25-game point streak that earned just as much national attention in the U.S. as the Blackhawks' recent point streak.
But the performance he's turning in right now during the Penguins' nine-game winning streak reveals just how well-rounded his game has become. In those nine wins, Crosby has 17 points. That's the same point total guys like Marian Gaborik, Daniel Alfredsson and Paul Stastny have all season. His 48 points are eight more than Steven Stamkos for the league lead and only linemate Chris Kunitz has a better plus/minus.
It's not just the point production, it's how he's carrying himself. How he's leading his team.
"He's at that age now, 25-26, he's got the leadership and the work ethic," said Penguins GM Ray Shero.
There's more control. There's more composure.
"It's just another level," Brisson said. "He's always competed hard but it's just his approach on things. Another gear. Now, you're seeing the other gear on the ice."
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