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Sidney Crosby knows all about massive expectations and hype.
No one entered the NHL under more of a microscope than he did back in 2005 and he has lived with immense pressure throughout his 16 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now that Alexis Lafreniere is following an identical path with the New York Rangers, Crosby is one of the few people on the planet who can relate. Both were superstars with the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic and were drafted first overall - Crosby in 2005 and Lafreniere a few months ago.
Friday was their first chance to face each other in an NHL game and Crosby certainly appreciates how much his counterpart's head must be spinning at all times in his young career. Lafreniere went into the night with no goals or assists through his first three games in the league.
"He's a great player," Crosby said during a media session on Thursday. "He generates (offence) in a lot of different ways. Like any young player, I think with every game there are so many new things - new buildings, new opponents and that sort of thing - so I'm sure there's a lot on his mind. But I think that being someone who can relate to what he's going through, I think he's just got to continue doing what he's doing."
It's hard to believe Lafreniere was still just shy of his fourth birthday when Crosby played his first NHL game on Oct. 5, 2005 against the New Jersey Devils. And Lafreniere was in the Rimouski Colisee as a member of the Oceanic a little more than a year ago when the organization retired Crosby's No. 87 jersey.
Likewise, defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph was just six years old when Crosby set up Mark Recchi for his first NHL point that night in New Jersey, but now they're teammates in Pittsburgh. Joseph was expected to make his NHL debut Friday night against the Rangers and the elder statesman from Cole Harbour made sure to keep an eye on how his young teammate's nerves were holding up.
"Any time you have somebody playing their first NHL game, there's a lot going through their mind and they want to be ready," Crosby said. "That's something that everyone's been dreaming of for a long time so I think you just try to make them as comfortable as possible and support them any way you can. As far as advice, I think you just want them to enjoy it and you want to get a win any time someone is playing their first game. You want it to be memorable that way too."
Injuries on the Pittsburgh defence opened the door for Joseph, whose older brother Mathieu is in his third season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pierre-Olivier spent last season in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and has been on Pittsburgh's taxi squad all this year.
The former Charlottetown Islanders captain is not shy about taking cues from Crosby and the other veterans inside the Penguins room.
"It's a little bit of everything," the 21-year-old defenceman said during a media session on Thursday. "It's feeding off what they're doing on the ice and off the ice. It's them feeding me with information about how I can improve my game and how I can improve my skillset. But mostly I'm just looking around and getting a piece from every player. Everybody has been through their own experience in their career and it's great to have a great group of guys like we have here."