Nathan MacKinnon: what to expect for the future


Nathan MacKinnon had one heck of a rookie season in 2013-14. He scored 24 goals and 63 points in 82 regular season games and added ten points in the playoff contest with the Minnesota Wild. However, in his second year, the production dropped and MacKinnon finished with 14 goals and 38 points in a season that was cut short by an injury.

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In an interview with Willy Pavlov of the Chronical Herald, the young center himself admits that he and the whole team “didn’t play well” as they were all “kind of in a slump”. Just before the 2014-15 season ended, I analyzed MacKinnon’s possession stats and compared them with the rest of the team, coming to the conclusion that his sophomore slump is exaggerated. You can find that article here.

That article is full of numbers, maybe a little too much, but it gets the point across. Advanced stats show that players and teams with high possession numbers are generally more successful than others. Nathan MacKinnon was one of the few players who had decent possession stats on a team whose big problem is exactly that — getting the puck, holding on to it and shooting it.

Feb 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Christian Folin (5) defends an attempt on goal by Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Of course those numbers can easily be misleading. I admit that MacKinnon would often skate into the offensive zone, do a full stop and shoot the puck out of desperation. In that situation, MacKinnon’s corsi improves, but the shot was completely harmless. And that situation was something that often happened several times each period.

Add to that MacKinnon’s shots from bad angles. He is essentially a playmaker, but he sure knows how to rip a shot off. In his rookie season that combination worked out perfectly. This time around, he often didn’t find the open player and took a shot from a bad angle instead of passing it.

Still, not every one of his shots was harmless. He did create lots of scoring chances, especially towards the end of the season and just before his injury. His 13 goals are disappointing for him for sure, but just like he said, the whole team did not always play well.

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We all know about MacKinnon’s skill, speed and creativity. Needless to say that there is no doubt about him turning into a superstar one day, whether it happens next season, the season after or three years from now. Personally, I believe that the whole team, including him, can bounce back next season. Whether he matches his rookie production remains to be seen, but he will definitely get close to it.

If Ryan O’Reilly gets dealt, MacKinnon will center the first or second line for sure. And he will be great at that. If O’Reilly stays, MacKinnon will likely start the season on O’Reilly’s right wing.

However, I see Matt Duchene and MacKinnon as the Avalanche’s long-term solution at center. Sign a good free agent like Carl Soderberg or Shawn Matthias for the third center spot and move John Mitchell to the fourth line. As to O’Reilly, I think he should be traded.

Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene are the Avalanche’s future. And MacKinnon will bounce back from his “sophomore slump”.

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