Penguins' man of Steel

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:24 PM ET

Sid the Kid, meet Mario the Magnificent.

On the day NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally was able to definitely announce the league will resume play this fall, one of the game's greatest stars received the chance to pick the player whom the majority of observers expect to be the sport's next big thing.

So not only will Pittsburgh Penguins owner and captain Mario Lemieux celebrate his 40th birthday on the NHL's opening night on Oct. 5, he'll also be skating alongside an 18-year-old phenom named Sidney Crosby.

The NHL draft won't be held until next Saturday here at the Westin Hotel, but the moment everybody has been waiting for arrived yesterday when the Penguins won the draft lottery held in New York.

LEMIEUX 'THRILLED'

"I'm thrilled and I'm excited. This is really going to help the franchise," said Lemieux. "I got to know Sidney a little bit when I skated with him last summer (in Los Angeles) and I know the things that this guy can do.

"This changes the whole picture for hockey in Pittsburgh. To get Sidney is going to help us get a big building. This will show that this team belongs in Pittsburgh and will help us stay here forever. The chances are a lot better with Sidney in the lineup."

Crosby, who turns 18 Aug. 7, is the most-anticipated player to come along since Eric Lindros was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in 1991. He looked thrilled as he watched the draft drawing live on television with his family in Cole Harbour, N.S.

While three Canadian teams -- including Ottawa with the ninth overall pick, Vancouver (10th) and Montreal (fifth) -- were in the top 10, it only seemed fair the Penguins, the NHL's doormats in 2003-04, won the lottery.

Crosby will arrive in Ottawa for the draft on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Penguins have declared they're not going to listen to any offers for the pick and that's just fine with Crosby, who is happy to be joining Pittsburgh and will be the perfect replacement for Lemieux when he retires.

"I'm thrilled. Nothing is done yet, but I'm really excited. I'd be more than happy to go there," Crosby said during a conference call following the lottery.

"I was just crossing off the teams as they were being picked. It's going to be great to get the chance to play in Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to get to know Mario last year. He's a great role model and I want the opportunity to play there.

"I met him last summer. We played on a few lines together. Just to be around him and how he handled himself meant a lot. We were very comfortable together. I'm looking forward to it. I'm more than happy to be going to Pittsburgh. There's no question about it."

Senators president Roy Mlakar was also thrilled, as the Penguins will pay Ottawa a visit for a pre-season game.

"I guess this makes me look like a genius," he joked from New York. "That exhibition game against the Penguins on Sept. 29 I booked is looking pretty good at the moment."


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