Even 15 years into his NHL career, it can be tricky to capture everything that makes Sidney Crosby so good. So we asked his linemates to do it for us.

To understand Sidney Crosby’s game, you have to look to the unnatural. Past a healthy dose of natural athleticism, there’s little that’s organic about the way Crosby became Crosby. No, for Cole Harbour’s favourite son, glory came through sheer force of will. Through a relentless, methodical infliction of effort on every aspect of his skill set, until all that was left was greatness.

Even after a decade-and-a-half of watching that greatness play out in the NHL, there’s still something about the Penguins captain’s presence that’s difficult to quantify. Ask a room full of hockey lovers what it is that makes No. 87 great, and you might get 10 different answers. There’s a nuance to his talent that can be tough to parse.

It’s the way Crosby can receive a pass at top speed regardless of where it happens to arrive, catching it in his skates or knocking it out of the air. It’s him wading into the corner with the puck and somehow grinding and dancing his way back into open space with it still on his stick. It’s the backhands, the deflections, the edgework.

Making sense of it all requires time. Crosby isn’t a performance act at centre stage. He doesn’t give it to you all at once. He’s a painter moving across a grand canvas, slowly perfecting each square inch, each minute detail. And while, standing back, we can recognize we’re in the presence of a masterpiece, it’s only those who’ve been by his side along the way who truly understand what he’s done.

This is an inside look at how Crosby became Crosby, as told by those linemates who were out there with him as it happened.


Crosby’s rarely ever taken the ice as an unknown. It’s never happened in the NHL, it barely happened before. Meeting the much-hyped phenom for the first time is always preceded by some level of intrigue, expectation and, at times, even skepticism. But seeing him on the ice for the first time always delivers.

RYAN DUNCAN (Shattuck-St. Mary’s, 2002-03) I played with Sidney when he was 15 years old. I would’ve been 17. We knew we were going to be roommates coming into Shattuck, so we talked a little bit in the summertime. Obviously, the buzz kept building and building. My mindset was like, ‘How good could this kid be? I’m going to go down there. I’m going to outscore him. I’m going to go prove that I’m better than this kid.’

ERIC NEILSON (Rimouski Oceanic, 2003-05) I really didn’t know who he was or much about him. I knew that he was a pretty big prospect — and he had to be kind of a big deal, he was first-overall in the draft. I meet this kid for the first time, and he’s just like a goofball. Like, he’s just got the big buck teeth and the bad hair. I’m looking at him and I’m like, ‘This is the kid that everybody’s got all the hype about?’ Like, he just didn’t have the look, you know what I mean?

DUNCAN We get on the ice and obviously I saw firsthand how good he was. You just saw the way he played one-on-one, the way he protected the puck, the things you still see in his game today. So good in the corner — he’s not the tallest guy, but his lower-body strength might be second to none. Just the way he controls the puck, his vision, plays on both sides of the stick. He’s one of the best passers, he uses his teammates so well. And he’s responsible. By the end of the year, I think he outscored me by 90 points.

NEILSON I was like ‘Holy shit, this guy’s pretty good.’ [Laughs.]

“He’s just got the big buck teeth and the bad hair. I’m looking at him and I’m like, ‘This is the kid that everybody’s got all the hype about?’”

COLBY ARMSTRONG (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2005-08) The first time I saw him, I was standing in the run at the old Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, where the team comes out of the main dressing room. I was on a different session and I remember just watching him out there on the ice against those guys at [his first] camp, and I was just like, ‘Holy smokes, this is the kid we’ve been hearing about? Holy smokes.’ Just watching an 18-year-old outsmart grown men with tons of experience on the ice, sucking them in and finding players in the fourth or fifth lane attacking down from the back side while he’s under pressure in the corner. I hadn’t seen guys make decisions like that or make plays like that really ever in my life.

JARED McCANN (Penguins, 2019-Present) I saw him catch a pass — it was unbelievable — the puck kind of blew up off the ice and it was bobbling, it had to be at least three or four feet off the ice, and I saw him knock it down with one hand and, like, full speed just continue down the ice. It was incredible. I kind of looked around, and nobody really cared too much. But I looked at Nick [Bjugstad, who was also new to the team], and Nick looked at me, and we’re like, ‘Holy crap. That just happened.’

PATRIC HORNQVIST (Penguins, 2014-Present) When you play against him, he splits the D and it looks like he doesn’t have control of the puck, but then when you see him in practice, he does it over and over. And yeah the puck might bounce, but somehow he always finds a way to split them and get the puck under control after. Just the reliability to always find a way to control his stick and skate, it’s crazy.

BRYAN RUST (Penguins, 2014-Present) Being on the ice with him for the first time I think can be a little bit nerve-wracking. But the more you’re out there with him, the more you just want to learn and kind of work as hard as he does and just emulate some of the things that he does.

ARMSTRONG I was playing in Wilkes-Barre and he was obviously on the Pens, but I drove down to Philly to watch him play against the Flyers. He had his big battles with [Derian] Hatcher and ended up chipping some teeth, his mouth was bleeding. And at the end of the game he gets a breakaway pass, it was in overtime, and he comes in and scores the winning goal, and he does like this double-arm fist pump thing, grinning, and his teeth are all chipped and his mouth is bleeding. I thought that was just a great moment, especially against Philly, for him as a Penguin, as a rookie. I remember hearing fans in Philly saying, ‘I think we’re going to have to get used to seeing that.’ Even the [opposing] fans were like, ‘Wow.’ Because he didn’t back down.

Assignment: Top-line Wing

The first-line assignment on Crosby’s wing has meant something a little different at various points in his career. In his younger years, it was about protecting the future superstar; today, it’s simply about trying to keep up when those gears start to turn. A constant throughout, however: Crosby has rarely skated regularly alongside another bona fide star (at least one who was already shining before he got involved) — No. 87 always holds the keys.

CONOR SHEARY (Penguins, 2015-18; 2020-Present) We had a morning skate, so I went in for the meeting and the lineup was posted on the board. I remember walking in and I might’ve done a double take to make sure that it was my name that was written on his left side [laughs].

McCANN I was freaking out. There’s no other way to put it — I was freaking out. You know, I was talking to Mark Recchi, our assistant coach, he was just like, ‘Play simple. Sid’s easy to play with.’ Meanwhile, I’m sitting there just like, ‘Holy crap. I’ve never played wing really before, and now I’m playing on a line with Sidney Crosby.’ So, personally, I was freaking out.

JAKE GUENTZEL (Penguins, 2016-Present) I mean, you’ve heard of the superstitions, so you’re kind of just trying to stay away. But he was just calming me down and talking to me like it’s no other day.

RUST Uh, I was definitely nervous. I think I was probably thinking to myself ‘Just try and get him the puck’ a little bit too much.

SHEARY I remember him standing next to me on the ice [at the morning skate] and saying that I was playing with him for a reason, and to just play my game and not worry about anything else. And I think that calmed me a lot — it maybe took my mind off it knowing that he knew I was a little nervous, but he was comfortable telling me that and settling me down.

HORNQVIST I remember our first game. It was an exhibition game in Detroit. He got the puck down low on the left side and he just fired it as hard as he could in front of the net. It hit my tape and went wide, but just the quickness in seeing the game, it’s fun to watch.

NEILSON They wanted to make sure that he was protected his first year [in junior], so I played with him more. He said, ‘Just put your stick on the ice and go to the net.’ I think I scored four or five goals that year, and every one of them was an assist from him.

HORNQVIST His way to make plays from nothing — he always seems to have double coverage on him, and then he finds a way to find that little saucer pass or that spot.

RUST You’ve got to be ready in certain situations that maybe you [usually] shouldn’t be ready to either get the puck or make a play. He can make a lot of things happen out there that not a lot of players can do, and things happen so quickly with him that you’ve always got to be on your toes.

SHEARY Obviously when you’re beside him, you’re always going to get the top D pairing and you’re always going to get the top forward line. [But] everyone’s always going to be aware of him on the ice more so than his wingers, so I think that sometimes can give you some free space, because they’re so worried about what he’s going to do, and I think if you’re able to find those little areas, he’s oftentimes going to find you.

NEILSON There were just plays that I would be a part of when I was playing on his line, and I’m just like, ‘How did he physically do that? How does he just know that?’ I’d come back to the bench and I’d just be mind-blown. There would be times where I’m just like, ‘Man, that’s incredible for a 16-year-old to be able to do that.’ And they weren’t just fluke plays — he would do them again and again and again. It was repetition. It was a pattern that he was able to figure out. He was just so much more advanced in the game.

GUENTZEL You have to stick to your own game — you can get starstruck when you’re playing with a player like that, and sometimes you’re over-trying to give him the puck.

ARMSTRONG You’re scared to go back to the minors, you’re scared to make a mistake playing with the best player, and still have expectations to play a certain way and be yourself and play your game. But then at the same time, you’re playing with a guy like Sidney Crosby who expects a certain calibre of play to happen — you’re making plays in tough situations and you have this mindset of ‘don’t screw up,’ so you chip it down instead of making that little 10-foot pass in a dangerous area to him. It was a little bit of an adjustment for me. I remember him pushing me to be that guy. So it was kind of like a push inside on my own head, it was the reins from the coach being pulled a little bit, and then it was also a little bit of encouragement from Sid, like, ‘Let’s go, you’re on the top line, you’ve gotta make these plays.’

HORNQVIST It’s easy to play next to him — he gives his wingers great opportunities to score and make plays. And maybe with that comes a little more pressure, too, because you get more pucks and you have to make plays back, but I just saw it as a big opportunity.

CHRIS KUNITZ (Penguins, 2009-17), speaking to Sportsnet 590 The Fan in 2014 You get the notoriety — you get to play the big minutes, to go out against a team. And any time you have chemistry with a player like that, he’s obviously going to bring you a long way.

ARMSTRONG I can tell you this, I got a lot of assists on a breakout just standing between the hashmarks and the blue line — a crisp pass to me, and just one-touching it to the middle with him following the play like a centreman usually does, coming underneath the puck, just laying it to him while guys come to me. The way he’d go one-on-three or one-on-four and split the D and score — I got a lot of assists in the first few years there with my hands over my head and I didn’t even get outside of my blue line, but he’s already scored [laughs].

RUST I don’t think I had a very good game the first game I was on his wing, I think I was minus-3 or minus-4 or something. But it was definitely a learning experience. At the end of the day, you’re still playing hockey and you’re still doing the things that make you successful. You’re just playing with the best player in the world.

On-the-fly Lessons at Crosby University

Crosby’s always had a knack for motivating teammates to find a higher gear. But 15 years into his career — after amassing a historic trophy haul and cementing his status among the game’s greats — the captain has taken a more hands-on approach to bettering his linemates, sitting with his young wingers between shifts and teaching them how to think the game like him. The results are undeniable.

RUST He’s constantly talking to you on the bench, in between shifts and in between periods, going over little plays, asking what his linemates saw and relaying what he saw.

McCANN He’ll bring out the iPad and he’ll show you, you know, ‘I want you in this spot or I want you in this spot.’

RUST It gets pretty specific. As in, [he’ll want to know] what you were thinking going to your backhand or your forehand.

SHEARY A lot of times, I would slow up to give him support, thinking that he wouldn’t see me, but he would tell me, ‘No just keep skating there, I’ll find you. I won’t let you go offside. I won’t ice the puck. Just keep skating and I’ll find you.’ And I think that kind of frees you up a little bit to do a lot more out there and to have more success.

GUENTZEL I mean, he sees different things. If it’s little seam passes or places where I should go, he always is helping out and he’s so good at that on the bench.

DOMINIK SIMON (Penguins, 2015-Present) If there is some stuff that needs to be communicated, he starts it, he sees it, he can feel it. He tells us he wants the line to work well, he wants the team to work well.

“They weren’t just fluke plays. It was a pattern that he was able to figure out. He was just so much more advanced in the game.”

McCANN And then when you go out there, you kind of see it. Like, you see where he’s going to be and it just kind of clicks. He’s an amazing teacher, he really is.

RUST Any time you can get a split-second edge or an advantage, he always likes to talk about that, because he’s always trying to get that little advantage.

HORNQVIST He’s the best captain I’ve been around, and that’s because he always wants everyone to feel good and be better. And he pushes guys, too. He’s not just talking to guys, he pushes guys and he leads by example. If you have a captain like that, there’s no way someone else will cheat or not do the right things out there. That’s why we’ve been a good team for a long time.

DUNCAN You wanted to not slow him down by any means, but he didn’t put any extra demands on you — he was really good at kind of finding his linemates’ strengths and weaknesses, and working around that. He was never one to have an ego and put people down.

NEILSON He was able to talk to his teammates not like he’s better than them. It was like, ‘Okay we’re all together here, we’re going to do this together, and we’re on the same level.’ It was, ‘What do you guys think?’ and he would include their input, share ideas.

DUNCAN He gets the point across that he’s competitive and he wants to win, and this is what you have to do. But in a subtle way. It’s like we’re all pulling at the same rope.

NEILSON And if something worked, he’d be open to changing — it wasn’t just set in stone. I think sometimes players at that level, of that calibre, when they’re that talented, they miss that. And he didn’t.

DUNCAN He had just a surreal poise about him, real composure about the way he approaches things. He just seems to know what to say in any situation.

McCANN When Sid talks, everybody listens. He just commands the room. He has that level of respect.

MIKE SULLIVAN (Penguins head coach, 2015-Present) We’ve never really surrounded him with elite 50-goal scorers, at least not at the beginning. Jake Guentzel is the latest example. When we put Jake beside him, Jake was just a young player trying to find his way in the league. Last year, he scored 40 goals playing with Sid. And what I really admire about Sid is how he nurtures these guys, how he sits beside them on the bench and talks to them after certain shifts, he tries to get on the same page with them so that line can be as successful as it can be. And these guys would go through a wall for him, because they look up to him and admire him so much.

SHEARY He would keep me on the ice for little drills and things that he noticed in games that we could work on together. He would work on those things with you after practice. I mean, he helped mould me into the player that I am. We worked on a lot of two-on-one stuff — where he wanted to receive the pass and when he wanted to receive the pass to have the best opportunity to score.

ARMSTRONG Not everybody’s this No. 1-line winger, you’re not always going to get that. I think he understands that, and instead of a normal guy who’s probably getting frustrated and going, ‘What’s this guy doing?’ he uses his ability to adapt and figures out how to make that guy better.

McCANN He’s been a great teacher for me, and I’m just trying to listen to him as much as I possibly can.

No Off-switch

On the ice, Crosby has long been unbending in pursuit of his goals. Off the ice, it’s been much the same — his obsession doesn’t subside when he leaves the rink. It’s all-consuming, and always has been.

DUNCAN Getting to live with him and hang out [at Shattuck], and to see what he did day in, day out, how he handled himself at such a young age — he knew where he was going, and he wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize his future. You could just tell how much of a professional he was at 15 years old. He was just so ahead of the game mentally.

NEILSON He had this thing about him right away from when I first met him, just that feeling that he was going to be the best, and he was going to do whatever it took to get there. For example, he put up over his bed, on the ceiling, he put ‘Score and win.’ So that would be the first thing he’d look at in the morning when he opened his eyes and the last thing he looked at when he went to bed.

DUNCAN The way he prepared, he didn’t seem to be fazed at all by the expectations — he just went about his business. I think he had that dream for himself, so he knew the work that he needed to put in. He wasn’t afraid of it. It wasn’t this weight that he was carrying around — he was just having fun, felt fortunate that he got to play this great game.

NEILSON He was always competitive. Even at home, just me and him, we set up a basketball net downstairs and we would just sit there and watch hockey highlights on TV. We’d come up with some stupid game — ‘You’ve got to bank it off a wall and in the net’ or whatever. So we’d have a best-of-seven series. No word of a lie, if I ever would win, he would get up, he wouldn’t talk to me, he’d go and slam his door, and he’d be in his bedroom for the rest of the night. I’d be knocking on his door and he’d be like, ‘Go away,’ telling me to beat it, because he was so pissed off that he lost.

“He’s mastered a lot of things that a lot of guys don’t even think about.”

ARMSTRONG You look at it from the outside and he’s this world-class player and he’s on TV and they’re showing what he’s done and all his highlights. When I came up, to be with him every day and see what he’s like, he was just like an 18-year-old kid that just loved hockey. Just like all of us, you know. It’s just that he was way better than all of us at doing it [laughs].

NEILSON He loves the game. He would’ve been the kid that would’ve watched every Hockey Night in Canada. He also was a student of the game — I remember doing trivia games with the boys on the bus, and we used to play like, ‘Who won the Stanley Cup, or who led the goal-scoring race, in 1984?’ — before he was even born. And he knew everything. He was one of those guys, he was like a computer, a hockey computer, who knew every stat and every team that won the Stanley Cup, who they beat in the Final. He was just at a different level with hockey.

SULLIVAN He’s a guy that will come into my office and say, ‘Hey, is there any chance I could see the pre-scout of our opponent’s penalty kill?’ We always prepare that for the group, but Sid likes to see it by himself, or sitting with one of our coaches. And he thinks out loud with our coaches, and to have his perspective is valuable for our coaching staff. He’s always looking for that little advantage that he can get, or we can get as a team, in order to try to have success.

So, when I say he’s invested in winning, that’s what I mean. He’s totally invested in every element of his life. And I’ve watched it every single day for the last four years — when you see it day in and day out for that long, when you see the time and the sacrifice, the commitment that he makes to be the best player in the game, it’s impressive. And it’s certainly made an impression on me.

Practice Makes Perception

Regardless of the era, Crosby’s linemates learn pretty quickly that practice with the captain doesn’t look quite like it does with anyone else.

McCANN He practices new things all the time, but he practices the little things in the game, you know what I mean? Like picking up a pass on your backhand. We were working on picking up passes on our backhand going through the neutral zone, but he wanted the coach to throw it in his skates or a little bit ahead of him so he has to kind of reach out and get it. I feel like that’s what separates him from a lot of other guys who just practice the same thing over and over again. Like, he’s mastered a lot of things that a lot of guys don’t even think about.

GUENTZEL He takes game-reel situations to practice. If something happens the night before, he’s always taking it to the next day.

RUST He’s always experimenting with things, new ways to either catch passes or tip pucks or get a shot off. Hockey’s such a fast sport; it puts your body in so many different situations that you can’t really replicate all of them. I think Sid does a really good job of trying to replicate as many as he can, and get as good at as much as he can.

SHEARY You might remember a ton of goals he scores [where] he’s off to the side of the net and he kind of tips it up top-shelf. He worked on that a ton.

DUNCAN He knows the bread-and-butter of his game, and then he kind of just adds little pieces around it. He’s so focused, so determined, and so talented at the same time. It’s such a rare combination for a hockey player, you know?

NEILSON Every drill he would do, he did it to 150 per cent. That’s not easy to do — any hockey player would be able to tell you there’s those days that you don’t feel it, it’s not 100 per cent. But you never knew with him — he just, he brought it. Every time.

SHEARY Even when there’s a one-on-one drill or a battle in front of the net, like how hard he competed, and it was a practice. You’re kind of like, ‘If that guy’s doing it then why aren’t I trying that hard?’

SULLIVAN It probably is more indicative on the odd occasion when he doesn’t practice for whatever reason, if he has a small injury and he wasn’t able to practice on a given day. You know, when Sid practises, the pace of the practice is ratcheted up, and the whole quality of the practice improves because of his work ethic. He pushes the pace for the rest of the group. He’s the standard.

HORNQVIST It’s incredible to watch him. He’s the most skilled guy in the league, and he still works on it every single day, those small, small moments in the game. And then he works on it after. And that’s been a huge eye-opener for me, to work on my game. I think we all do it because of him.

ARMSTRONG He wasn’t good at faceoffs or his defensive game wasn’t good enough — you know, now we’re hearing him up for these offensive-defensive awards, he’s in the chatter as one of the best faceoff guys in the league. Think about the kind of guy that he is and the compete level that he has, and to think that there’s a minute on the clock and there’s a big faceoff in his own end, and [the coach says] ‘We’re going to stick this guy out there for the faceoff instead’ — he’s the kind of guy where that would eat him up. He wants to be that guy. He worked to be that guy, to make sure he’s that guy all the time, to win that faceoff.

SULLIVAN I say to people all the time that in all of my years associated with this league, and in knowing other athletes in other sports, I’ve never been around an athlete as driven as Sid.

Scouting Report

What do the players who spent years skating on his wing think makes Crosby elite? This is their breakdown of the most impressive aspects of his skill-set.

ARMSTRONG There’s no player I feel is better when a guy’s on his hip — he can beat a guy coming out of the corner just with his power and speed. You know, he’s made guys look fairly silly even with one hand on his stick. And the ability to make that backhand pass through defencemen, shoot it on the back corner — it’s just a lethal part of his game. Some people refer to him as a grinder, ‘the best grinder in hockey,’ and I think he definitely has those qualities.

NEILSON His lower body and his core were just so dominant. So much stronger and more developed than other kids at that age. He was able to control the play by just protecting the puck and not letting people knock him off it, and the thing is, when we would get knocked off it, how hard he worked to get it back. If you watch clips from back in the Rimouski days, yeah, he might turn it over, but I remember multiple times he would come back and he would backcheck and be able to turn the puck back over and go the other way.

SULLIVAN He has such an ability to wear his opponents down because he’s so fit. It’s hard for them to stay up with him, and there’s so many examples of him just hanging on to pucks down low and our opponents ended up getting exhausted, and he continues to play because of his fitness level. I’ve watched so many scenarios where he has scored goals or set up goals for his linemates late in shifts, or on the second half of the shift, when they just simply wore their opponents down.

NEILSON A guy gets a puck on his stick and he starts skating up the ice, nine out of 10 of them are going to have their head down, looking at the puck. He was one of those guys like Gretzky, they had their head up — they were looking, they were able to control the puck and look at the play, look at what’s developing, look at what’s going on at that high level, at that high speed. Yeah you can do it in practice when you’re standing still, stickhandle back and forth, keep your eyes up. I would lose the puck when I’d do that — imagine me skating as hard as I can up the ice, stickhandling, carrying the puck, and having your head up and looking for the options.

SHEARY I think his breakaway speed is pretty underrated as well — when he gets moving up ice, he’s able to create separation, he’s able to kind of burn D-men all the time.

NEILSON He would go from first gear to fourth gear in two seconds, not even.

“I’ve never been around an athlete as driven as Sid.”

RUST I think he just keeps changing as the league’s changing — you can see over the past few years he’s even getting faster and quicker and he’s making even quicker plays. The league is headed in that direction, and you can see that he can realize that and he can get better at it.

ARMSTRONG He really thinks the game in that give-and-go style offence — creating out of traffic and finding guys. It’s like he’s comfortable in that, and it makes his vision and his passing ability that much more dangerous, the more guys he kind of sucks over to himself and can open the ice.

RUST How good he is on his edges and on his skates — his ability to kind of get in and out of tight spaces, how he turns and cuts so well, and how he can kind of manoeuvre his body around but also keep his speed up and keep making plays while he does it.

McCANN Everybody sees the skill and the speed and all that stuff, but nobody really understands how good he is defensively, and how much he really cares about being a two-way forward.

SULLIVAN What I think separates Sid from others is that he has a mature game. He knows how to win. He understands that he has to generate offence, as a lot of elite players do, but there’s so much more substance to Sid’s game than just the offence. He takes pride in being good in the faceoff circle, for example. Last season, we used him killing penalties on the defensive side of the game. When we’re up by a goal and our opponent pulls the goaltender and we’re defending a lead late in games, he’s our go-to guy. Because he understands how to defend, and he’s willing to play that game. I just think he has the most mature game in hockey, and because of that he’s the best.

Secrets to Success on Sid’s Wing

Early in Crosby’s career, he was dogged by the perception that coaches had difficulty finding players who could play with him. He’s since disproven that notion by thriving with a rotating cast of inexperienced, impressionable wingers. So, what does it take to be successful on No. 87’s wing?

SULLIVAN We try to surround him with players that can help him be successful, and players that can help him in the areas of the game that he thrives. For example, we think he’s the best player in the game underneath the hashmarks or below the goal line. He has an incredible ability to generate offence coming out of the corners or below the goal line in his cycle game or his down-low game. He tends to thrive with guys that are good in those areas, that play a give-and-go game, that are quick, that are elusive, that have the hockey sense to get to the quiet areas where you can get him the puck or vice-versa.

ARMSTRONG You know, watching Jake Guentzel now, Jake’s not a big guy — he’s got some good skill, he’s got a great shot, he’s got ability to beat guys one-on-one and he’s really crafty and a smart player. But he’s also a guy that’s not afraid to go in and get pucks, because playing with Sid, he kind of plays that same style. You’re not necessarily going to do everything for him in getting the puck, but you’ve gotta be there and you’ve gotta be able to make a pick for him, and you’ve gotta be able to make those little five-foot passes.

HORNQVIST It’s not very hard to be successful around him. You just have to play your game and don’t think too much — he’s going to give you the puck in different spots, and always be ready to shoot or make the next play. And then play quick — I think that’s the key to playing next to him.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

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GUENTZEL Just trying to get open, trying to play that give-and-go game, create turnovers. I mean, you just know how good of a playmaker he is so you’re just trying to find those soft areas, because you know he’s going to get it to you.

SIMON You’re not trying to overthink it — there’s not even that much time to think on the ice.

RUST Just play your own game — don’t always be trying to adapt to him. He’s a very adaptable player, and he can play with the players that are around him. I think the more you play to your own strengths, the more successful you’ll be as a line.

KUNITZ He just has so many guys focusing on him when he has the puck, because he generates so much speed and has the ability to beat guys one-on-one. So I think just being able to go and him [having] trust and consistency in the way I’m going to play, and the areas that I’m going to be, maybe put him at a little bit of peace of mind, knowing that I’ll be in those areas.

SHEARY More than anything, I think he likes a guy who works hard and is able to create offence alongside him. I think a lot of times you’ll see the guys he plays with are maybe not the top pick or the highest prospect, but a lot of times they’ll work hard and they’ll get him the puck.

Human Highlight Reel

Every one of Crosby’s teammates has quick recall of their favourite Sid moment on the ice. This is the best of his highlight reel, according to them.

DUNCAN He would take some six-foot-five defenceman, put the puck through their stick two or three times, somehow he would just leverage, outmuscle them when they’re leaning on him, get around them. He’d open up his skates and pivot, go around him and somehow make an unbelievable deke to score on the goalie. I mean, it happened countless times. He just makes it look so easy, and you’re like, ‘I could never do that in a million years.’ And he’s doing it a couple times a week. Making these guys, who at the time are two or three years older than him, look like nothing.

NEILSON One crazy play that stands out — we were playing the Quebec Remparts at home. He’s behind the net and he flipped the puck up on his stick and he wrapped it around and put it in top corner on the goalie. Just looking at that and the way the Coliseum erupted after that play, and the energy, and talking to him after the game, it was pretty cool. I went out the next practice and tried to do it 100 times, and I couldn’t even get the puck up on my stick, let alone during the game, being able to do that all calm, cool and collected, and being able to finish like he did.

HORNQVIST The wildest play I saw was when he split the D there in Buffalo and put it on the one hand and then got it over [the goalie’s] pad. It’s hard to do — with one hand on your stick, to get elevation on the puck, and to come with full speed and have all that control. That’s crazy.

RUST I think he walked all four penalty-killers, and then one-hand, top-shelf backhand. I think that’s something that kind of sticks in your mind.

ARMSTRONG He’s like a computer out there the way he operates — he’s automatic. Even in the first outdoor game, the Winter Classic, there’s so much snow on the ice, and yet we see him in the game — no one does this — but like, he takes the puck, he flips it up, he’s batting it to himself down the ice while the rest of us dummies are pushing the puck with our stick like a shovel through the snow.

McCANN It would’ve been a great story if I’d scored on the play — but growing up, when I watched him play he always did that spin-o-rama backhand pass backdoor, and he did one of those passes. I remember it was against Montreal, and I was going backdoor, I didn’t have very much speed, but the puck literally landed right on my tape. And I watched the play after and he did a spin-o-rama around the D at the blue line, and just didn’t even look at me — he just threw the puck and it landed right on my tape.

ARMSTRONG I think the best were from his first few years, him splitting D and jumping through the air and scoring these crazy goals where it’s literally one-on-three, or you don’t see another Penguin jersey in the entire picture on TV. Splitting D is like impossible to do, and he seemed to do it every other night almost, scoring these electric goals that were absolutely crazy.

GUENTZEL Obviously when he hits the puck out of the air, those goals that he scored like that. It’s pretty special to see. Only special players can do that.

ARMSTRONG It was against Carey Price — he deflected it out of the air and then banged it out of the air again. To himself. In the air. And swatted it in against Carey Price. Like, no one really does that. That’s Sidney Crosby’s thing. And everyone just thinks, ‘Oh, he’s really good,’ but I remember our first year skating with him and practising, and we’d stand around the net and just flip pucks to each other and he’d knock it off his glove out of the air, off like the top of his glove with his hand on his stick still, and tap it in — bonk, boom.

Those are all things he’s added to his toolbox, whether it’s his deflecting skills with his stick, his hand-eye out of the air. He’s one guy that I think a lot of people just go, ‘Oh, he’s really good.’ But he works at it — a ton of little, little things that make you go, ‘Oh, it looks like he’s having fun.’ But it actually translates to magic on the ice.

Photo Credits

Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images; Kirk Irwin/Getty Images; Dave Sandford/Getty Images; Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images; Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images; Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images; Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images.