MHH's 2013-14 Avalanche Season Analysis: Part 3 - Nathan MacKinnon

Mike Stobe

Today, the focus turns to the coveted first pick in the 2013 draft. Nathan MacKinnon is NHL ready according to anyone you ask, including Coach Roy who has already penciled him into the line up for opening night.

The Avalanche have had four players score over 50 points in their rookie season: Paul Stastny (78), Matt Duchene (55), Gabriel Landeskog (52), and Alex Tanguay (51). Will Nathan MacKinnon join that group? How well will he adjust to the NHL? Will he be sheltered all season, or will he prove himself worthy of facing top competition?

Steve: I have not seen the replays of his future.

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Mike: No. I think his adjustment period will be less "public" than Duchene's or some other high-profile guys due to the way I think he'll be used. What way is that? Sparingly. As in sheltered. Protected. Expected to not screw up and that's about it.

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AJ: As excited as I am about MacKinnon as an Av, I think his rookie season is going to look a lot like Chris Drury’s. I see him proving he belongs in the NHL and playing an exciting up-and-down game predicated on his game-breaking speed. Coming in, I expect his ES numbers to be middling and the team will definitely try to protect him, as evidenced by their desire to start him off being flanked by McGinn and Downie. The line should put up solid possession numbers but my hope is where MacKinnon really shines is as the finisher on the PP. The Avs have lacked that scoring touch for years and with a team full of playmakers, he’s all setup to be that missing piece. With such a strong collection of two-way forwards, MacKinnon should not be seeing time against the opposition’s best on a consistent basis.

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Andi: I think Mac's going to break 50 points. No matter what line he's on, he'll be with good wingers (which is still a strange and exciting concept to me), so I'm sure he'll score quite a bit. He's also probably going to see progressively harder defensive assignments as the year goes on to take some pressure off Duchene and Stastny's lines. His role will likely change a bit if the team decides to showcase Stastny/O'Reilly for the trade market or Duchene for the Olympics, but I expect him to be playing like a 2nd line center by the end of the season.

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Cheryl: Sheltering MacKinnon is a perfect idea. I think he'll do well there and, with the inevitable injuries, will deserve some top-six time. I see him breaking out as a power play dynamo, which will help him get to that 50 point level. I think he'll make it past, but it'll be close. Having teams' attention forced up on the other lines (Duchene's in particular) will help open up room for him. Having McGinn and Downie as protectors will also help.

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Sandie: At the start of the season – and until injuries inevitably start to pile up – MacKinnon will have sheltered minutes, and he’ll succeed because of it. Once the injuries have occurred, hopefully not to Nathan, he will get more minutes and they will be less sheltered. Because of that I think he’ll have more confidence playing against NHL’ers. He is already fast, and will only get faster as he gets stronger. He has been practicing with NHL’ers all offseason. In fact, during the NHL Scouting Combine he mentioned that he would only be taking a week or two off to recoup and do nothing. The rest of the time he’d be working. He lit up when talking about playing for Roy. He mentioned that Roy hates to lose, and so does he. This kid has the winning attitude, and more importantly, the work ethic to get the win. I think, barring any injuries, he will hover around the 50 point mark.

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Sean: You don't have to be a professional NHL scout to know that Nathan MacKinnon is a special player. But does that mean he'll score 50 points his rookie year? Let's weigh in the pros and cons. Pro: Nathan is physically mature and will only continue to strengthen his body throughout his rookie year. Con: Often times with Halifax he used that body to storm through the opposition at lightning speed. He'll have to learn to simplify his game against smarter, stronger defenses or else pay the price. Pro: He'll have the toughness of Steve Downie and the fatness of Jamie McGinn to protect him. Con: He won't have the elite vision and brains of Jonathan Drouin. Pro: To borrow Joe Sakic's words, Duchene will come at you in one wave, then MacKinnon the next. There aren't enough teams in the NHL with the defensive depth to handle three talented and potentially explosive lines. And even if Stastny or O'Reilly is shipped out, MacKinnon will move up a line where he'll have an upgrade of wingers to work with. And ultimately speaking, Nathan is arguably more NHL ready than Duchene was his rookie year. For all these reasons, I'm expecting at least 50 points and no less.

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Cole: Barring injury I don’t think Nathan MacKinnon should have any problems cracking 50 points next year. He’s got all the same speed and explosiveness that Matt Duchene left juniors with but with two key differences. His strength and his shot. MacKinnon looks a bit stronger on his feet than Matt Duchene was at 18, a trait which could help him to avoid some of the early struggles in Duchene’s career as he adjusts to the increased physicality of NHL hockey. The big difference, however, is that MacKinnon shoots the puck harder and faster than Matt Duchene as a rookie. MacKinnon is sure to have his fair share of first year struggles, however, his defensive game isn’t as well rounded as Duchene’s was in juniors and he’s poised to enter the league almost six months younger than Duchene did. Lastly, while Matt Duchene was flung onto the Avalanche’s top two lines and faced some difficult defensive matchups in his rookie season, Nathan MacKinnon will be playing on a talented third line and facing easier competition as he adjusts to NHL game speed. The decreased pressure, combined with MacKinnon’s natural talent should give him the support necessary to score 50 points and contend for the Calder Trophy.

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Angelique: MacKinnon seems destined  to join the likes of Stastny, Duchene, Landeskog and Tanguay. He may start on the third line, but things will likely change as the season moves along. How much power play time will MacKinnon see? How will his role be impacted should the Avs decide to move one of Stastny/O'Reilly? I suspect MacKinnon will have a quick start before hitting a bit of a rookie wall as he adjusts to the rigors of the NHL. He'll find his second wind and will definitely be a solid contributor as an 18-year-old. His speed and skill will be a welcome addition to a club that needs a spark.

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