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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25, #1: Nathan MacKinnon, Undisputed

The 21-year-old is poised to be the face of this franchise for the foreseeable future as he enters his 5th pro season.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey writing staff. Our writers, plus a special vote from the readers, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.

Nathan MacKinnon has been the most dynamic player in the history of the unipron. He electrified the fanbase and announced his presence to the league at large in his Calder-winning rookie season during the Avs’ improbably improbable post-season run under rookie head coach Patrick Roy in 2013-2014. Then the reality of the NHL stomped him hard in his second season. Injuries and sophomore slumps saw a promising 63 point rookie season dwindle to 38 points in 64 games for the freakishly-fast forward.

He rebounded a bit in year tres to the tune of 21 goals and 52 points, but after his first pro coach walked out minutes before the next season began, MacK was faced with another rite of passage for the modern NHL player: coaching uncertainty and turnover. He managed to effectively tread water in 2016-1017 with his third 50+ point season on a historically horrific team and held his overall possession metrics largely flat while enduring a career low shooting percentage (6.4). So many events though, you guys!!

MacK’s Possession (EV)

Season GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oiSH% oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS%
Season GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oiSH% oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS%
2013-14 82 1219.6 1154 1279 47.4 -0.7 852 961 47 -1.5 11 93.2 104.1 51.5 48.5
2014-15 64 927.9 918 937 49.5 7.5 689 692 49.9 7.2 7.8 90.6 98.4 49.1 50.9
2015-16 72 1107.2 1067 1196 47.1 4.3 824 856 49 5.2 8.4 91.2 99.7 57.8 42.2
2016-17 82 1253.2 1302 1207 51.9 4.4 996 934 51.6 5.2 8.2 89.1 97.3 54.3 45.7
Career 300 4507.7 4441 4619 49 4.1 3361 3443 49.4 4.3 8.9 91.1 99.9 53.4 46.6
MacKinnon NHL Possession hockey-reference.com

With the bulk of the roster drawing LOL defensive concern due to their low threat threshold, he continued to see an increase in tough match-ups and drew heightened attention by the opposition. Added to that was the appearance that he was dragging teammates up and down the ice when the Avalanche did manage to have the puck moving in the right direction. Still, for a terribad team, he finished 4th in goals, 1st in assists and points, and saw the most minutes among forwards (10th among NHL centers who played more than 70 games). In fact, Connor McJesus was the only pivot younger than him who saw more minutes. In addition, he was the team’s lone (token?) All-Star. Comparing him to his contemporaries, the only guy his age in the top 25 centers is Leon Draisaitl.

Lots of the interweb’s versions of league-wide top 25s under 25 have MacKinnon in the top 10 or 15 players because they too see the potential for something great, despite his current team’s myriad of issues. MacKinnon is signed through 2023 to a cap-friendly $6.3 million/year hit that should allow the front office to build around him, Landeskog, Rantanen, Jost, Compher, and Zadarov right into the wheelhouse of his prime playing years. The specter of Duchene’s situation hangs over the start of the upcoming season, but Avs fans have to hope that MacKinnon retains the “A” and takes the next step in his Colorado career.

He has phenomenal hands, blistering speed, a good shot (when it’s on) and knows how to distribute the puck. He is a legit 1C in a league that has a galaxy of rising stars, but he’s tarnished by the clownshoes roster he’s been surrounded with. I mean, just look at what he did in the World Cup with a bunch of other young guys with no chance to win anything!

He suffered last season on a team with no identity and little pride (not to mention the terrible power play structure that seemed to forget he was on the ice for stretches of the season). Hopefully entering the new season with Jared Bednar entrenched as head coach, some fresh approaches to the man advantage, stable linemates in Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen (linemates for 13+% of last season), and a team hungry to put last season behind them will be the catalyst for MacKinnon to begin dominating games on a regular basis.