Sidney Crosby’s winding road to 1,000 makes feat all the more remarkable

How appropriate, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby registers his 1000th NHL point with with an assist on Chris Kunitz's goal which has happened frequently in the past. Crosby is the 86th player to reach the milestone.

• Sidney Crosby is the 11th-youngest to reach 1,000 points
• Gretzky: “He’s the best player in the game”
• No. 87 poised to continue adding to hardware

There’s a chance you’ve underestimated just how sterling Sidney Crosby’s career has been.

Despite plying his trade during the lowest-scoring era in NHL history, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has produced at a rate commensurate with the greatest to ever play the game.

And now that he’s reached 1,000 career points – assisting on Chris Kunitz’s goal against Winnipeg on Thursday night – we have a new standard against which to measure his performance.

Crosby is the 11th-youngest (age 29 years 193 days) and 12th-fastest (757 games) player to reach the milestone. It’s a remarkable feat when you factor in the 201 games he’s missed already in his career due to injuries and a lockout.

Indeed, with a little better luck he might reasonably have celebrated his 1,000th point quicker than everyone but Wayne Gretzky (23 years 328 days) and Mario Lemieux (26 years 171 days) in NHL history.

And that’s not even factoring in how much different his point totals would look if he came along in the 1980s rather than the 2000s.

"He’s the best player in the game," Gretzky said recently during all-star weekend. "He’s earned that mantle, and his work ethic is as good or better than anybody in hockey."

"I think his skating ability is second to none," added Lemieux. "His lower-body strength is unbelievable; if he goes one-on-one in the corner he’s able to come out and make a play. His passing ability is probably the best in the league, and his vision, of course, is also one of the best.

"He’s just a special player that comes along not too often."

Crosby grew more reflective as the milestone came into view.

He’s the third man to hit 1,000 points this season – following Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Sedin – and the 86th ever to achieve the feat. It’s amazing to think there were times six and seven years ago when he was battling concussion issues, and wondered what kind of career he still had in front of him.

"A lot of different things go through your head as far as playing again, getting to the level that you think you can get to if it does happen that you can get back," Crosby told reporters last week. "There's a lot of time sitting around waiting. It’s hard for that not to cross your mind."

Crosby had 572 points in 412 games before suffering his first two concussions and missing the entire second half of the 2010-11 season.

He’s had 428 points in 344 games since.

Add it together and the native of Cole Harbour, N.S., owns the fifth-best points per game ratio ever at 1.32 – trailing Gretzky (1.92), Lemieux (1.88), Mike Bossy (1.50) and Bobby Orr (1.39).

"He’s handled pressure and handled everything with grace and dignity, and he deserves all the accolades he’s getting," said Gretzky. "He’s really been special."

To the relief of an entire industry, the concussions didn’t end up derailing a Hall of Fame career.

Crosby won one Stanley Cup and one Olympic gold medal before and after that period in his life. He’s claimed one scoring title and one Hart Trophy on either side as well.

If anything, he appears poised to continue adding serious hardware to his collection and fittingly moved one point behind Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring lead with the assist that got him to 1,000.

In the end, Crosby had to wait a little longer than expected to get there. He was held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games for the first time all season last week – against bottom-feeders Colorado and Arizona, no less – before returning home to reach the mark in front of the fans in Pittsburgh.

While it’s tempting to look at the best player of his generation and wonder how much more untouchable his career would have been had things unfolded differently, it’s not really a productive exercise.

Similarly, examining how much harder his road to 1,000 was compared with those from the goal-infused eras of the past doesn’t hold much appeal for Crosby either.

"I’m a hockey player, but I love the game, too," he said. "I have a lot of respect for what those guys accomplished. A thousand points, no matter what era, is pretty good."