With 63 points in 82 games and 10 points in 7 playoff games this season as a rookie, 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon is no longer the “Other Kid” from Cole Harbour. He is a star in his own right, despite the presence of his Cole Harbour buddy Sidney Crosby.
The career paths of MacKinnon and Crosby are similar and well documented to no end. MacKinnon is not Crosby, plain and simple. MacKinnon just happens to be from the same hometown and no doubt Crosby was a big influence on him.
Going into his draft year, MacKinnon was the favourite to go first overall in the 2013 NHL draft for good reason. He led the upstart Halifax Mooseheads to an upset over the heavily favoured Quebec Remparts as a rookie and had a hat trick in the final at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament to win gold for Canada.
But MacKinnon had some competition for the coveted No.1 ranking on scouts’ lists. American defenseman Seth Jones, who played for the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks in the WHL edged out MacKinnon after the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships, where MacKinnon was relegated to a fourth line role for Canada who finished in fourth place, while Jones played an integral role for the gold-medal winning Americans. In addition, MacKinnon’s Mooseheads teammate Jonathan Drouin stormed up the draft charts with a dominant QMJHL season and an eye opening World Juniors as an underager. Even phenom Connor McDavid, who had received exceptional status in the OHL and is not draft-eligible until 2015, was stealing headlines in the hockey world.
It was the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup where MacKinnon showed why he deserved to go No.1. He had 13 points in just four games in a dominant MVP-winning performance including a hat trick and two assists in the final vs. Jones’s Winterhawks to clinch the championship for Halifax. All of the sudden MacKinnon was starting to get his name back in the No.1 spot on the scouting lists. However, with the Colorado Avalanche winning the draft lottery and the team already rife with talented forwards up front in Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, it appeared Jones would be the better pick for a team lacking on the back end.
But Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche thought differently. A few days before the draft, the team declared they would be drafting MacKinnon first overall. Some questioned why they would take him over the defenseman Jones, but others saw his star potential as a game breaker. The Avs kept to their word and took MacKinnon 1st, while Jones slipped to fourth to Nashville.
These days, I don’t think too many people are questioning Colorado’s decision to take MacKinnon. He along with Duchene, gives the Avs a dynamic 1-2 punch down the middle as his blazing speed, quick hands and willingness to battle has given the team another potent weapon in their quest to become a contender. The poise and confidence MacKinnon showed this season belies his young age and it is scary to think how good he is now and what he is capable of in the future.