PITTSBURGH (AP) — The fan in Connor McDavid comes out whenever he sees Sidney Crosby‘s familiar No. 87 on TV.
”When you’re watching, you’re hoping for him to do something cool,” the Edmonton Oilers star said.
Defending one of his childhood idols is another matter entirely. McDavid will get an up-close look when the Oilers visit Crosby and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.
”If you want to model yourself after someone, I think he’s as good a guy as you can get,” said McDavid, who has three goals and five assists through seven games. ”He’s won just about anything there is to win in hockey: individual awards, team awards. You name it, he’s got it. If you’re a young guy like me, that’s what you want to do with your career.”
While Crosby totally gets why sharing the ice with McDavid is a thing, he’d rather not talk about it.
”I think there’s always matchups, storylines and things like that … but we’re just going to go out there and play,” said Crosby, who has five goals and five assists.
At the moment, Crosby and the Penguins have more pressing matters than the hype that accompanies the biannual meeting between two of the NHL’s brightest lights.
The Penguins placed goaltender Antti Niemi on waivers on Monday just three games into his tenure as Matt Murray‘s backup, called up rookie Casey DeSmith from their AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre/Scranton and acquired forward Riley Sheahan from Detroit over the weekend to address their need for a third-line center. The Oilers, meanwhile, are off to a slow start following their first playoff appearance in more than a decade.
Pittsburgh swept Edmonton last season, a testament to the depth around Crosby. Crosby was held without a point while McDavid had a goal and three assists in the two games.
”They were two really, really entertaining games,” McDavid said. ”Obviously you hope for that and hope for a better result.”
The 30-year-old Crosby and the 20-year-old McDavid are separated by a decade but little else.
They finished one-two in Hart Trophy voting last year, with McDavid and his league-leading 100 points edging Crosby and his NHL-high 44 goals. For a while last spring it appeared they were on a collision course for the Stanley Cup Final until the Oilers blew a 3-1 lead against Anaheim in the second round.
It’s not unlike the path Crosby and the Penguins followed shortly after he made his NHL debut in 2005. Pittsburgh reached the postseason in Crosby’s second year. The Penguins reached the Cup final in his third year. In his fourth, he raised the Cup with the franchise’s third championship.
”I can only speak of my experience, going to the final and losing was a really good experience for us as a group,” Crosby said. ”Going through that it’s something you learn through.”
The Oilers are hoping last spring can serve as a launching pad for McDavid, whose vision and speed make him a nightmare matchup for anyone tasked with trying to keep up. The responsibility will fall largely on Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang, who should see plenty of McDavid’s No. 97 on Tuesday.
”I just think what’s tough for a defenseman is sometimes a guy can go fast in a straight line and he doesn’t have his head up, he’s just worried about beating you wide,” said Letang, one of the fastest skaters in the league. ”This guy is like looking straight into your eyes and he’s going full speed so you’re like ”Oh (no), what is he going to do?”’
Asked to compare McDavid’s quickness to another player outside his own dressing room, Letang responded: ”No one is near that guy.”
Oilers coach Todd McLellan will try to find a balance between figuring out a way to steer his team out of its early funk while also appreciating the special talent on the ice.
”It will come down to team play but you do appreciate as a coach, a fan, even a player, their skill set and what they brought to their teams and their communities,” McLellan said. ”Even off the rink, both of them are tremendous that way. It’s fun when they’re together.”