Since Wayne Gretzky anointed 15-year-old Sidney Crosby the boy most likely to succeed, the Halifax native has gone on to dominate the Quebec Major Junior League, help Canada to gold and silver medals at the World Juniors and rub elbows with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Now 18, Crosby comes to Pittsburgh as the boy expected to save the franchise of another ice icon, Penguins owner/center Mario Lemieux. But reviving Steeltown hockey is just a fraction of the load Crosby will carry onto the ice in his rookie season, as the post-lockout NHL looks for that special someone who can spark interest in the game beyond diehard fans. Can the kid handle the pressure? It looks that way. Over a steak-and-eggs breakfast in Venice Beach recently, hockey's Next One fired some hopeful shots into his future. -E.J. HRADEK

I wanted to be a goalie growing up. I think every little kid does, because of the equipment. It looks like fun. But my dad discouraged me. He thought Id enjoy skating around and chasing the puck more than sitting in the net freezing.

I've never really played against anyone my own age. It's always been that way. I think it helped me. When I was young, I realized I had a gift, or maybe some talent other kids didn't have. I don't know if its nature or if it came from just playing a lot or having a passion for it. But you can have all the talent in the world, and without a work ethic, nothing will happen for you. That's something I've always told myself. I always wanted to go first. When I was 16 and knew I might have the opportunity to get drafted, I wanted to go No. 1. My parents always told me, if you want to go first, make it easy on yourself. Don't be sitting there on draft day thinking, am I going to go No. 1, No. 2, No. 3? Make it easy for them. So it was nice when all those sacrifices that I made and that my parents made finally paid off. Draft day made everything worth it. I would have been happy to go anywhere. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to play with Mario. I trained with him here in LA last summer, had dinner with him a few times. He was really great to me, really down-to-earth. He even drove me to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight. I think his wasn't until 8, but he picked me up at 5. That's pretty amazing.

I don't think I'm just a one-way player. I think I'm an all-around player, like Peter Forsberg or Steve Yzerman. Id like to be the guy who can take big faceoffs late in the game or block shots or hit a guy if he needs to be hit. Obviously, I think my strength is making things happen offensively and scoring goals. But I don't want to be known as someone who can just do that.

I'm not going to try to be another Wayne Gretzky. I don't think there's ever going to be another Wayne Gretzky. When people say I'm going to save hockey, I think of it as a challenge. I'm not going to shy away from it. I want to be the best, but I realize you can't be the best overnight. In your first year in the NHL, you take it one step at a time. There's going to be expectations and pressure. I'm ready to accept that and handle it. But I also think the NHL is going to be a lot of fun, playing in the best league in the world, competing and being challenged. That's what makes it so good when you succeed. I'm young and I know there are a lot of great players in the league. But I don't think its other peoples expectations that I have to live up to, just my own.

I've been a marked man since I started playing. It's always been that way.