Nathan MacKinnon: Center Or Wing?


When Nathan MacKinnon was drafted first overall in 2013, the expectations in him were high. NHL CSS only ranked him second behind defenseman Seth Jones (4th overall to Nashville), but after all, he was the guy who brought magic to Halifax with fellow forward Jonathan Drouin (3rd overall to Tampa Bay).

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In the end, he even exceeded everybody’s expectations. The Canadian center won the Calder Trophy after recording 63 points in 82 regular season games and adding ten more in the seven-game playoffs. But here we have the problem. He is a Canadian center.

In Colorado, however, Nathan MacKinnon spends most of his minutes on the wing. Most people agree that an elite center has more value than an elite winger. When teams are ranking players before a draft and find two forwards that bring an identical amount of skill and potential, they will rank the center ahead of the winger. So would keeping MacKinnon on the wing hurt him and perhaps even waste his potential?

Let’s just answer this question right off the bat. No. It won’t hurt him and definitely not waste his potential either. That said, he probably should move to center sooner or later — preferably sooner.

Nathan MacKinnon is extremely valuable for the Avalanche when he plays on the wing.

The thing is, right now, MacKinnon is extremely valuable for the Avalanche when he plays on the wing. Even more so last season, when Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly inherited the center positions. He does well on the right wing and as long as that is the case, the Avalanche have no need to move him.

Every player on a team in any sport basically has one task: do what the coach says. If Coach Patrick Roy sees MacKinnon on the wing right now, so be it. Does it hurt him? No — and it probably rather helps him.

Centers have to carry a lot more responsibility. On the wing, you can be pulled by your teammates easily. As a center, you are the one that should pull his teammates and make them better. You are, the name says it, the center of attention and the center of playmaking — which is a high responsibility.

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Spending his first professional seasons on the wing has saved him from that responsibility and he has proven himself as one of the best forwards on the team, despite struggling in his sophomore year. Everybody struggled and he is still considered one of the best players on the team.

Now O’Reilly is finally gone, but Sakic and Roy decide to put Carl Soderberg ahead of MacKinnon on the center depth chart. Will Nathan ever get a chance? Most certainly.

As stated before, MacKinnon doesn’t have a lot of responsibility resting on his shoulders right now. Once he has more experience at the NHL level, he will most likely get some more of that responsibility and get to play bigger minutes as a top-six centerman.

MacKinnon projects to be a better player than Duchene and these two guys should be the long-term center solution for the Avalanche.

Nathan MacKinnon may not be Connor McDavid, but he did draw comparisons to Sidney Crosby in his draft year. He has the potential to be an elite center and he has the potential to be that here in Colorado. Tyler Seguin is a good example for how it works. He started out as a right wing in Boston and is now an elite center in Dallas.

Long story short, Nathan MacKinnon may be a winger right now, but that doesn’t make him one for life. He projects to be a better player than Duchene and these two guys should be the long-term center solution for the Avalanche. Playing on the wing for now does not hurt MacKinnon — he even benefits from it.

What do you think? Does playing on the wing hurt a talented center like MacKinnon? Let us know in the comments!

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