OTTAWA (AP) – Sidney Crosby was feeling more nervous for other draft prospects than himself Friday.

He could afford to be because few players before him have been so secure in the knowledge of where they will be selected.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will select the 17-year-old forward with the No. 1 pick Saturday in the 2005 NHL draft. That’s where the certainties end.

Forwards Benoit Pouliot of the Sudbury Wolves, Gilbert Brule of the Vancouver Giants and Bobby Ryan of the Owen Sound Attack, and defenseman Jack Johnson out of USA Hockey’s national team development program are expected to be the next four names called, but not necessarily in that order.

Anaheim, Carolina, Minnesota and Montreal are slated to pick between second and fifth but that could change by the time Pittsburgh selects Crosby.

“Jack Johnson is my roommate and he’s been going to a few meetings,” Crosby said Friday. “It’s definitely a nerve-racking time and I feel for him a little bit.”

Crosby has helped build anticipation for the draft in the short time the NHL has had to organize it since the league and players’ association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement last week. That deal ended the lockout that wiped out all of last season and delayed the draft for a month.

But it is the Mighty Ducks who are creating the draft-day buzz. New Anaheim general manager Brian Burke has indicated a willingness to listen to offers for the No. 2 pick.

Anaheim already has excellent prospects at forward in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, which helps Johnson’s chances of being the second pick should the Mighty Ducks hold onto it.

Johnson and Crosby are close friends from their days playing prep school hockey together at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota.

Most players chosen in the first round Saturday are expected to be from Canada and the United States, and perhaps none will hail from Russia. But scouts say this is a strong and deep draft class.

Crosby, Pouliot, Johnson, Brule and Ryan spent Friday morning skating light drills with about 30 minor hockey players – boys and girls – before joining other prospects for an introduction and autograph signing.

The requests to sign ball caps, cards and posters came fast and furious for Crosby, considered the best NHL prospect in years because of his prodigious skills and eye-catching statistics during the two seasons he played major junior hockey for the Rimouski Oceanic.

Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips, the first overall pick by the Senators in 1996, skated with the prospects in the morning and said he could identify with Crosby’s situation, somewhat.

“I don’t know if I was on the same scale as what he is,” Phillips said. “Hopefully it will be easier for Sidney. There’s really no question that he’s going to go first. He doesn’t have to worry about sitting there.”

The 2005 draft will be held in the ballroom of an Ottawa hotel and will be closed to the public. It will be a miniature one-day version of what has evolved over the years into a two-day extravaganza. It will be seven rounds instead of nine, but on television it will look much like it has in other years.

Only about 25 prospects will be on hand to hear their names called. Some first-rounders, such as Anze Kopitar of Slovenia, are not expected to be in attendance. There will be no anxious teenagers sitting in the stands with their families waiting for their names to be called in the second rounds or later.

On the draft floor, flanked by each of the 30 teams’ banners, each club will be limited to six people per table with the rest of the scouting staffs housed elsewhere in the hotel for quick consultation.

This draft will lack the usual fanfare – the NHL has promised to come back to Ottawa in 2008 with the full menu – and Crosby said he couldn’t expect much more.

“When you watch all the drafts in the past, it’s on a little bigger scale,” he said. “It’s tough for the other guys to who weren’t able to come.

“I think we have to realize it’s a special situation this year and things didn’t happen typically the way they do.”

AP-ES-07-29-05 2150EDT

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