THE "NEXT GRETZKY" HAS TO GET POKED AND PRODDED LIKE MERE MORTALS? Yes, at the June 4 NHL fitness scouting combine at the Park Plaza hotel in Toronto, where these pictures were taken, the 5'11", 193-pound Sidney Crosby, 17, was one of 111 potential draft picks who were tested as NHL scouts, coaches and general managers looked on.
WHO SAYS HE CAN BE THE NEXT GRETZKY, ANYWAY? Everyone. Including Gretzky.
SO DID THE COMBINE MEAN MUCH FOR CROSBY? Nope. The Nova Scotia native, who says, "Since I was a little kid, since as long as I can remember, my goal has been to go first overall," will get his wish on Saturday when the Penguins select him in the NHL draft. He has been the presumed top choice since he potted 72 goals in 57 games as a sophomore (2002--03) at Shattuck--St. Mary's prep in Minnesota. He went No. 1 in the '03 Quebec Junior league draft, then became the first player to win consecutive MVP awards, scoring 147 goals and 214 assists in 148 games for Rimouski.
FOR THE RECORD, HOW DID HE DO AT THE COMBINE? Not bad, considering he was nursing a knee injury he got while leading Rimouski to the final of the Memorial Cup and a bad chest cold. Crosby skipped the lower-body workouts but took his turn on a machine that measures pushing strength (above, right), threw a medicine ball and says he did about 25 push-ups at the combine-mandated pace of one per second. Then he met, individually, with representatives of 21 NHL teams. Says Crosby, "They ask a lot of really surprising--[and confidential]--questions."
HOW DOES HE STAY IN SHAPE? He's had a personal trainer since he was 13. This summer he has been working out seven days a week from 8 a.m. until after noon. He sprints, he skips, he lifts free weights, he ends up in a sauna.
SO WHO IS COUNTING ON HIM? Not only the Penguins and the star-starved NHL have hitched their wagons to this polite kid, who still lives near Halifax with his parents and nine-year-old sister. Crosby has a five-year, $2.5 million contract with Reebok and a three-year deal with Gatorade. A Canadian publisher will release a biography of him in October.
WHEN WILL HE TURN 18? On Aug. 7. He was born 8/7/87. Which is why he'll skate into the spotlight wearing number 87.