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Crosby, Fleury reflect on being No. 1 overall pick ahead of meeting with Matthews

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, 10:48 p.m.

Everywhere the Penguins have turned in recent days, they've run into a No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft.

On Saturday night, 2016 top choice Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs paid his first official visit to PPG Paints Arena.

Last Saturday, they met 1997 first pick Joe Thornton in San Jose. On Tuesday, 2015 phenom Connor McDavid and 2011 top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins came to town with the Oilers.

Four of their next five opponents will have a No. 1 overall pick on the roster as well — Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals (2004) on Wednesday, John Tavares of the Islanders ('09) on Friday and Rick Nash of the Rangers ('02) twice the next week.

There's no secret handshake among top overall picks. They don't meet for a reunion in the summer or have a special lounge where they can sit in the airport.

There are, however, common experiences that bond them in a way, '05 top choice Sidney Crosby said.

“If anything, you can relate to the experience that they're going through, their emotions and the excitement they have,” Crosby said. “That's probably some of the best times, when you're going to every building for the first time, and you're playing against guys you watched on TV the year before. I think that's probably the most exciting time, your first year or two when you're in the league.”

And no matter how their careers unfold, being a No. 1 overall pick is always a line that stays near the top of a player's hockey resume.

“It's a good accomplishment, from your young days, your junior days, to be put in there as the No. 1 pick. It's an honor,” said '03 top choice Marc-Andre Fleury. “Something I've learned quickly though is it doesn't matter where you're drafted after that. You've got to earn your spot, and you've got to keep your spot. But it's nice at the time, and it's nice to look back and think about.”

Fleury said he doesn't think Crosby gets up for matchups with No. 1 overall picks any more than any other game.

“I think Sid plays like that every night,” Fleury said. “That last road trip, I don't think we saw any (No. 1 picks) and he was on fire every night.”

Fleury said there might be one exception, however.

“Maybe Ovy,” Fleury said. “Maybe with that guy a little more.”

The numbers bear that out.

Crosby has 19 goals and 55 points in 31 career games against Ovechkin in the regular season. Ovechkin has 22 goals and 38 points in those games. Crosby's points-per-game average against Ovechkin (1.77) is better than against any top pick he faced more than five times.

Some other notes on Crosby and Fleury against No. 1 overall picks:

• On Dec. 10, 2005, Crosby and Fleury played against the earliest top pick they would face in their careers, No. 1 choice Pierre Turgeon ('87), who was then with Colorado. The Penguins won, 4-3. Turgeon was drafted about two months before Crosby was born.

• One No. 1 pick who had surprising success against Crosby in his career was Toronto's Mats Sundin ('89). Sundin had more points than Crosby, by a 21-19 margin, in 12 career meetings.

• In an unlikely matchup, Crosby and '91 top pick Eric Lindros went head-to-head in a 2007 game. Crosby had two assists, Lindros was held scoreless and the Penguins beat Dallas, 4-3.

• Two high-profile No. 1 picks, Thornton and Chicago's Patrick Kane ('07), have never scored on Fleury. Thornton has been held scoreless on 19 shots over 12 games. Fleury has stopped Kane 24 times in nine games.

• One other top choice had unexpected success against Fleury. Alexander Daigle, the '93 pick who widely is considered a massive bust, scored on the only shot he ever took on Fleury in 2004.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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