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

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Have you ever ordered dessert on the advice of friends, everyone raving about it so much that you just knew it was going to be delicious, but when you got it, it was the most divine thing you ever tasted, far surpassing your expectations?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, that was Nathan MacKinnon last season.

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?

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

What Steve says now: Ha. Ha. Andy Sutton joke. What a fuckhead. I copped out of this one because I don't follow prospects at all, so the only honest answer was "I dunno."

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What Mike said then: 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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What AJ said then: 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.

What AJ says now: Drury put up a 20-24-44 line in his rookie season and MacKinnon put up a 24-39-63 line, so...my bad. The rest of what I said wasn't...terribly inaccurate. Okay I way undershot how great he was going to be. Definitely a swing and a miss.

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What Andi said then: 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.

What Andi says now: So, it turns out that Nathan MacKinnon is good at hockey. I wasn't expecting him to play wing much this year, but he made the opposition look stupid no matter where he was on the ice. I did think he'd be a solid contributor, but 63pts from a rookie is far beyond that, as is outscoring that other schmuck from Cole Harbour during the playoffs in half as many games. It'll be interesting how he deals with the increased defensive responsibility next season, but I expect he'll do just fine with that too. Mac is a Hall of Famer in the making, and while he's a joy to behold now, watching him grow up with the team like Duchene and Landeskog have is only going to be sweeter. He'll have his rough patches along the way of course, but we lucked out even more than I expected with this one. He's a keeper.

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What Cheryl said then: 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.

What Cheryl says now: Welp, I totally called this one...well, almost. He was amazing, all right. I just didn't realize exactly how amazing he'd be. 63 points isn't anywhere close to 50.

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What Sandie said then: 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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What Sean said then: 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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What Cole said then: 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.

What Cole says now: Uhhhhh nailed it? MacKinnon had 0 problems hitting the 50 point mark on his way to his Calder Trophy victory.  MacKinnon put together a strong start and then improved all year, finishing his 2014 campaign with 10 points in 7 playoff games.  MacKinnon's rookie season came within an inch of Matt Duchene's sophomore campaign despite playing the first portion of the season on the team's third line, if he's healthy next season I think he should eclipse Duchene's sophomore number of 67 points.  Fearless prediction time: MacKinnon will be the Avalanche's first 30 goal scorer since Joe Sakic and Marek Svatos did it in 2007 (Iginla might also score 30, but MacKinnon will score his 30th first).  I've seen a few concerned on the interwebs that MacKinnon will go the route of Jeff Skinner, who also scored 63 points in his rookie season (31G 32A). To them I say Go home, you're drunk. Jeff Skinner shot shot at 14% in his rookie season, Nathan MacKinnon shot at just 10%.  That means that 24 goals for MacKinnon is just the start. (Also don't show that to Jeff Skinner because I really like him and he should play here with his friend Landeskog)

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What Angelique said then: 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.

What Angelique says now: MacKinnon exceeded expectations, at least for me. I expected him to be good, but not this good (at this point) and that can only bode well for the future. With the departure of Paul Stastny, MacKinnon will not only be expected to duplicate or exceed his offensive production, but he'll have to take on increased defensive responsibilities with the likely move to center. I have no doubts that the speedster will be as dynamic as in his rookie season, but there may be some bumps in the road defensively. Still, I think it's obvious that the Avs will have to break their "salary structure" for him in the near future.