Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon Needs to Step Up

Mar 18, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Colorado Avalanche won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Colorado Avalanche won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche need their young star, Nathan MacKinnon, to become the superstar his talent and potential dictate he can be.

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon is still a kid by life’s standards — he’s just 20 years old, technically not even old enough to drink or rent a car.

By NHL standards, he’s young but not a kid. Players get drafted at 17 or 18 years old. The vast majority of them don’t start playing in the NHL right away (if at all), but top-three picks generally do. MacKinnon, of course, was the Avalanche’s first-overall selection in 2013.

Nathan MacKinnon transitioned into the NHL right away. Going into the 2016-17 season, then, he’ll be entering his fourth full year. So, no, he’s definitely not a kid in the NHL. And that means it’s time for him to step up for the Colorado Avalanche.

Nathan MacKinnon’s Potential

Players are chosen first-overall in the NHL draft for a reason — they’re talented, skilled and have a proven record of winning. Nathan MacKinnon was no exception.

When MacK was just a tween, he was already earning 100+ point seasons in the top leagues of his age group. He continued that kind of point production as he moved up in leagues. For example, MacKinnon attended Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, a boarding school renowned for its prestigious hockey program. He scored 101 points his first season and averaged two points a game the second season.

When he was 16, MacKinnon started playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He recorded two 30+ goal seasons with them. In 2013, MacKinnon led the Mooseheads to their first-ever Memorial Cup championship. He was named MVP because of his tournament-best scoring and earned a spot on the All Star Team.

That’s how Nathan MacKinnon ended up being scouted as the #1 pick at the 2013 NHL draft, and that’s why the Colorado Avalanche selected him at that position.

Nathan MacKinnon is gifted with speed, hockey vision and an accurate shot — which he can employ at speed. All NHL players are talented and skilled — MacKinnon takes those to the nth degree.

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No one is going to call Nathan MacKinnon a bust, least of all me. It would be madness to do so — it is still relatively early in his career.

Plus, that first year as a Colorado Avalanche (2013-14), MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He led all rookies in scoring with 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists). MacKinnon finished fourth on the team for scoring and played all 82 games.

Unfortunately, that’s standing out as a career season for him thus far. During the the 2014-15 season, he was seventh on the team for scoring with just 38 points in 64 games. He missed the last few weeks of the season with a broken foot.

Last season MacKinnon finished third on the team for scoring, earning 52 points in 72 games. He missed the last 10 games of the season with a knee injury.

The Colorado Avalanche have struggled the last two seasons, especially in the scoring department. However, that’s where your first-overall player is supposed to make a difference.

Last summer’s first-overall draft pick, Connor McDavid, earned 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games. Granted that didn’t help the Edmonton Oilers much, but he also missed almost half the season with a broken collar bone.

The risk is that MacKinnon could become like some of the other Edmonton first-overall draft picks — good, but not a difference maker for the team. We need Nate to become a difference-maker.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the Edmonton Oilers and their plethora of high draft picks. Honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with the Colorado Avalanche either — if I did, I’d have a job with the team!

However, I do know that Nathan MacKinnon has a tendency to disappear in games. He’s so speedy and so talented, yet he can just fade away on the ice. It could be that he hasn’t had adequate linemates, though he has skated with our other two best players, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. It can’t be the system, which is based on the rush — and that favors speed.

Nathan MacKinnon has not been bad. He just hasn’t been the difference-maker the Colorado Avalanche need. He has the ability to do so at the elite NHL level as evidenced by his ankle-breaker goal that first season:

MacKinnon also has twice as many hat tricks as teammate Matt Duchene — and NHL “MVP” Patrick Kane, for that matter. MacK can fly, and he can score.

Next: 2016-17 Roster Shaping Up for Avs

That’s what we need to see in the 2016-17 season. Nobody puts Baby in a corner — nor our MacK Daddy. Here’s to hoping Nathan MacKinnon exceeds all his career bests next year.