Nathan MacKinnon is a 6’0, 183lb center from Halifax, Nova Scotia who’s in the Colorado Avalanche organization. The Avs drafted MacKinnon #1 overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. MacKinnon’s success has been well documented. Playing for the Cole Harbour (sound familiar) Red Wings Bantam AAA team, MacKinnon totaled a staggering 255 points in 85 games over two seasons. MacKinnon was just 12 and 13 years old during those seasons. MacKinnon then went to Shattuck-St. Mary’s (huh, that sounds familiar also) where he had 101 points (54-47) in 58 games for their Bantam AAA team. He went up to their U16 Midget team the next season and had 93 points (45-48) in 40 games. To no one’s surprise, MacKinnon was the top pick in the 2009 QMJHL Entry Draft. However, it was not the team he played his junior hockey with that selected him. No, Nathan MacKinnon was not drafted by the Halifax Mooseheads. The team that drafted MacKinnon was Baie-Commeau Drakkar. Baie-Commeau then traded MacKinnon to the Mooseheads in exchange for Carl Gelinas, Francis Turbide, and three 1st round draft picks (one in 2012, two in 2013). MacKinnon wasted little time in making an impact for Halifax. In his rookie season, MacKinnon had 78 points (31-47) in 58 games but lost out on the RDS Cup (QMJHL Rookie of the Year) to Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts. In the playoffs for Halifax that year, MacKinnon had 28 points (13-15) in 17 games. The following year was more of the same from MacKinnon. He finished with 75 points (32-43) in 44 games. MacKinnon missed time due to a knee injury as well as playing for Canada’s U20 team where he had just a single assist in six games. Some thought this dragged MacKinnon’s draft stock down and that Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones or his fellow Moosehead teammate Jonathan Drouin were ahead of him. The playoffs proved otherwise. MacKinnon shone again for Halifax with 33 points (11-22) in 17 games as well as 13 points (7-6) in 4 Memorial Cup tournament games where he led his team on their way to capturing the Memorial Cup.
Where do I begin? MacKinnon is lightning fast and has tremendous acceleration and strong, powerful strides. He’s a pure goal scorer with a wicked fast release and a heavier-than-expected slap shot. His creativity and hands are a deadly combination. While being a fantastic goal scorer, MacKinnon is also a very, very good passer and likes getting his teammates involved. Great motor. He’s always moving, and does not give up. While being a finesse player, MacKinnon has a nose for the net and will go to the dirty areas to make plays. His work ethic is second to very few. He’s always working on his game, trying to be the best. His hockey sense and IQ are off the charts kind of good. He makes big plays in big moments. Good lower body, core strength. Can play in a multitude of situations and is adaptable to any style of play.
MacKinnon needs to work on his defensive game. While MacKinnon is not a liability on defense, he must get better if he wants to become a superstar in the NHL. Despite his good lower body and core strength, MacKinnon needs to get bigger and add muscle to withstand a full 82-game season against grown men. Also, will the Sidney Crosby comparisons get to him?
2013-2014 NHL Projection:
It would be a complete shock if MacKinnon was not in the Avalanche’s lineup for their first game against the Anaheim Ducks on October 2nd. MacKinnon will be in the NHL right away and should compete for the Calder Trophy.
However, it’s not about if he’ll play in the NHL. It’s about what line he’ll be on. New Avs head coach Patrick Roy has said that MacKinnon will begin as the team’s third line centre. To me, that is not the proper way to use MacKinnon. He’s an offensive dynamo that needs to be in a top six role to flourish. Some of the highlights of Roy’s projected lineup would be MacKinnon playing with wingers Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie and Ryan O’Reilly playing left-wing on the first line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau. While I mean no disrespect to Matt Duchene, he is a fantastic player as well, Nathan MacKinnon could potentially be one of the NHL’s best players if he develops. I understand if Roy doesn’t want to play him on the first line right away so he can have time to adjust to the NHL game, but at least play him on the second line with a veteran like Alex Tanguay and/or captain Gabriel Landeskog. The smart thing for the Avalanche would be to try to trade Paul Stastny in exchange for some help on defense. Then, it would open up a spot on the second line for MacKinnon. Although, at times last season, Stastny was used as the fourth line centre so they could switch he and MacKinnon and use Stastny as the third line centre. Although getting defense should be their number 1 priority.
So, to conclude, MacKinnon should, at the very least, start on the second line to utilize his talents best. This spot can be opened up by either trading Paul Stastny for defense or moving him to the third line. A line of MacKinnon, Tanguay, and Landeskog would look very nice for Avs fans with it eventually being MacKinnon as the top centre with two of Ryan O’Reilly, Gabe Landeskog and P.A. Parenteau. Having MacKinnon and Matt Duchene as a one-two punch will be an exciting combo for Avs fans going forward, that’s for sure.
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