NEW YORK (AP) – Sidney Crosby is a week away from joining Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins beat out the other 29 NHL teams Friday in an unprecedented draft lottery that gave every club a chance to pick No. 1 and nab Crosby – the 17-year-old phenom from the Canadian juniors.

He will be chosen first next Saturday in Ottawa.

Pittsburgh joined Columbus, Buffalo and the New York Rangers with the maximum three balls in the 48-ball bin. The lottery was weighted to give teams that struggled in recent years a better chance.

The Penguins used that and the four-leaf clover general manager Craig Patrick carried in his palm to their advantage, taking the No. 1 with Anaheim second.

Patrick even stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York before attending the league’s board of governors meeting.

As commissioner Gary Bettman was announcing the relaunch of the NHL after a lost season, new deputy commissioner Bill Daly oversaw the lottery drawing. Bettman then opened 30 envelopes, building up to the final two teams.

Pittsburgh has already said it will take Crosby, expected to make his debut on Oct. 5 – opening night of the NHL season and Lemieux’s 40th birthday.

“I think he’s a fantastic fit,” Patrick said of Crosby. “To be able to add someone of Sidney’s talent, my mind goes round and round with possibilities.”

Crosby, from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, has done his part so far. He is the first junior player to be the MVP of the Canadian Hockey League twice. While playing for Rimouski, Crosby has 120 goals and 183 assists in 121 games in the league.

He’s failed to register a point in only eight games – and only twice last season.

Crosby’s 2.5 points a game average is just behind Lemieux’s 2.8 points over three seasons as a Quebec junior in the 1980s. Gretzky had 70 goals, 112 assists for 182 points in 64 games as a 17-year-old player in his one junior season in 1977-78.

Now Crosby will get a chance to play with Lemieux, who stars for and owns the Penguins.

“We trained together and skated together,” Crosby said. “He’s been great just to be around him. To see the way he handled himself, I learned a lot.”

The Carolina Hurricanes will choose third, followed by Minnesota and Montreal, the team Crosby hoped would win the sweepstakes.

Columbus, Chicago, Atlanta, Ottawa and Vancouver round out the top 10.

But the Penguins, who had the fewest points during the last NHL season of 2003-04, were the biggest winners on the day the lockout ended.

“I didn’t foresee Sidney being in our plans. It certainly solves a problem for us,” Patrick said.

The made-for-TV lottery came just minutes after Bettman announced plans for next season, that will feature a new league-player agreement, new rules and a new superstar.

Crosby is the most anticipated top pick since Eric Lindros in 1991. He has already drawn comparisons to Gretzky and Lemieux and the moniker of “The Next One.”

Usually, draft position is determined by the previous season’s order of finish with a modified lottery for the higher picks. Since there was no hockey for a year, the NHL determined this to be the most equitable way to set the order.

The Los Angeles Kings will pick 11th, followed by San Jose, Buffalo, Washington – which chose Alexander Ovechkin with last year’s No. 1 selection – and the New York Islanders at No. 15.

The Rangers will pick 16th after failing to match their NBA brothers, the New York Knicks, who won the NBA’s first draft lottery in 1985 and chose Patrick Ewing.

Phoenix nabbed the 17th pick, ahead of Nashville, Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston, New Jersey, St. Louis and Edmonton at No. 25.

Calgary, the defending Western Conference champions, will start off the final five picks of the first round followed by Colorado, Dallas, Florida and the Tampa Bay Lightning – the last winners of the Stanley Cup, who also picked 30th in 2004.

Lemieux, one of the finest players in NHL history, was taken first by the Penguins in 1984 and won three MVP awards and two Stanley Cup titles.

Now entering his fifth season after a three-year retirement, Lemieux can look forward to playing with Crosby and Russian forward Evgeni Malkin, selected No. 2 by Pittsburgh last year.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to bring in young people,” Patrick said. “We let them grow slowly. We wouldn’t put a lot of pressure on Sidney to try to carry our team. He’s just one of the young players that will carry the flag down the road.”

Despite having the most chances in the 2004 lottery, the Penguins sustained their last loss of that season when they were edged out by Washington for the first pick.



AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

AP-ES-07-22-05 1807EDT


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