Two seasons ago, Nathan MacKinnon became the superstar the Colorado Avalanche knew he was destined to be. In his breakout season, MacKinnon racked up 39 goals and 97 points in only 74 games while dragging his Avalanche team to the playoffs - only a year after the disastrous 22-win season. He showed the ability to ignite a one-line team while finishing tied with Connor McDavid for points per game. Everyone expected the Hart Trophy to be the culmination of the coming-out party for the league’s next great superstar.
Everyone except the voters.
Nathan MacKinnon finished second in Hart voting behind Taylor Hall - thanks to five voting journalists inexplicably leaving MacKinnon out of their top-five completely.
Since then, MacKinnon has only been getting better. He broke the 40 goal plateau for the first time last season and now he’s on pace to obliterate his career highs in both goals and points. All while putting himself in the record books among the franchise greats.
After solidifying himself as one of the best players in the NHL last season, it didn’t seem as though MacKinnon could get any better - but he has.
This season, the rate at which MacKinnon is scoring, producing assists and generating shots are all higher than they’ve ever been in his career. He is the only player in the NHL this season who is in the top-15 in both goals and primary assists per 60 minutes.
Currently, MacKinnon’s goal production rate is higher than Alex Ovechkin, his primary assist rate is higher than guys like Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Evgeni Malkin and his 4.36 P/60 is the best in the league. He’s been the best offensive player in the NHL and is doing so with new linemates nearly every night. Despite the depth added to the Avalanche lineup over the offseason, MacKinnon is still the unquestioned catalyst that drives the most potent offense in the NHL.
In nearly every instance, the forwards on the Colorado Avalanche have their offensive numbers improved during their time on the ice with MacKinnon. He’s had the team on his back for most of three seasons now and it he’s only been getting better.
All this said, NHL journalists still don’t vote for the Hart Trophy properly. The award is supposed to go to the league’s most valuable player. If that were the true criteria, MacKinnon would be an absolute lock. While Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were out of the lineup, MacKinnon’s production actually went up. He means more to the Avalanche than any other individual player means to the on-ice product of their team - and I’m not sure there’s much of a debate otherwise.
There are still a lot of voters who will base their opinion on raw counting numbers and will vote for the highest producing player on a good team - again, that’s not how it’s supposed to be done, but we know it is. Luckily, this year MacKinnon fits into that category as well.
Over the past few weeks, MacKinnon has been closing the gap on Edmonton’s dynamic duo of the league lead in scoring and is now only one point back (with a game in hand). Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid came out flying this year with an incredible first two weeks of the season. From October 14th on, no player has as many points as MacKinnon’s 58. And that includes a long stretch where both Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were out of the lineup.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more driven superstar than Nathan MacKinnon. He has spoken this season about how he has one goal in mind - winning a Stanley Cup for the Colorado Avalanche. Despite speaking about having no desire for individual accolades, they’re coming. Last month he was named the captain for the Central Division All Star team and now he’s the NHL’s first star or the week. Whether he wants them or not, more awards are coming his way. At the rate things are going, Nathan MacKinnon could very well find his name on the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s leading scorer at the end of the season and if that’s the case, it’s hard to believe the journalist who vote for the Hart will be able to overlook him again this season.