In May 2007 Pittsburgh Penguins did the inevitable and named Sidney Crosby, then shy of his 20th birthday, captain of the team. Owner/player/savior Mario Lemieux had re-filled the role from shortly after his 2001 comeback until his playing career was ended with a heart condition in January 2006. With such large shoes to fill, the Penguins didn't name a captain for the next year and a half.
Crosby was offered the captaincy during the 2006-07 season, but he declined quietly; not feeling ready for the position or the shoes of who he'd have to fill. But after that season, in which he won the Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson and Hart Trophies and led the Penguins to their first playoff berth since 2001, it was time.
Though Crosby was young, the Penguins were certainly his team and he clearly was the future. In the snarky world of the internets the team and Crosby carried a target for this, it was the target of skepticism at best (in the vein of "how's this kid going to command the respect and lead players much older than him") to general the pettiness of putting an asterisk next to the designation of Crosby being the youngest NHL captain in history--since technically Brian Bellows was the interim captain of Minnesota for half a season due to an injury to Craig Hartsburg in 1984).
Regardless, as Sidney Crosby always does, he kept his nose to the grindstone and kept working. Wanna boo him every time he touches the puck on the road? Fine, watch how his point/game average balloons in the venues where that happens. For his teammates, Crosby kept giving tips and pointers to them; "go here when I do this", "take your stick like that to get in a position to shoot when I go there", "skate like this and I'll find you there" and it soon showed in the production of linemates like Colby Armstrong, Mark Recchi, Erik Christensen and Ryan Malone all who had career years or renaissances next to #87. Though never one to be the most vocal in the room, Crosby kept leading by example and letting his actions, and preparation speak more than words.
A small thing one can notice is that Sidney Crosby will take almost every optional practice during the regular season. This has translated to the rest of the team, as more non-injured players are participating now when maybe guys wouldn't have a couple of years ago. After all, how are you not going to lace 'em up and go to work when the captain and arguably the best offensive player in the world is out there every day refining his craft?
Veterans like Malone, Recchi and Gary Roberts have slipped away and the Pittsburgh Penguins have morphed into a team more in Crosby's influence. Surrounded by a talented young core in guys like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang the Penguins have emerged as arguably the premier team of the Eastern Conference in the past two season.
And when new veterans have joined the team to fill holes, they are now adopting Crosby's style and work ethic. To which there was an article on penguins.com:
"It's his attitude toward the game," [Bill] Guerin said. "He's competitive. He's got a lot of drive."
How much drive? Consider that Guerin admitted Wednesday that he is practicing harder than he has in years.
"I have to, just to keep up," he said, breaking into a smile. "I'm not kidding either. That's the God's honest truth. He goes so hard in practice, he pushes me and he pushes Chris (Kunitz, the other wing on Pittsburgh's top line). I think it makes us better."
and from another vet in Hal Gill:
"We have a young nucleus and we know where we are headed," Gill says. "I think management has clearly shown that this is a young team and guys are going to be together for awhile. I think the younger guys feel comfortable. It's different. Sometimes older guys carry the feel (in a room). Here, the way we act in the locker room, it's younger. It's a younger team. We feed off them, we feed off their energy. I think that's nice."
Visibly the growth of Sidney Crosby the hockey player is evident: 12 goals, 10 assists (and counting) in this playoffs all the while vanquishing his two most heated rivals along the way and battling a worthy opponent for the chance to go back to the Stanley Cup finals. But now, just below the visible surface, is the latent development and evolution of Sidney Crosby captain and leader as an on-going process.
All of this while still shy of his 22nd birthday. When you hear "the sky is the limit" think a while on what that really means and what the future could hold. While he's peerless on the ice, at this rate Crosby could evolve into the ilk of great leaders like Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla. While it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to get in the class of those three respected gentlemen, is there any doubt that when it comes to those traits there's no one more willing to strive for it than Sidney Crosby?