Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon as a Power Winger

Sep 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America Center Nathan MacKinnon (29) battles for a puck with Team Finland Defencemen Olli Maatta (3) during the first period in preliminary round in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America Center Nathan MacKinnon (29) battles for a puck with Team Finland Defencemen Olli Maatta (3) during the first period in preliminary round in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Colorado Avalanche drafted Nathan MacKinnon, they were making a move to solidify their center depth. But, with that depth still intact, could MacKinnon be better suited as a power winger for the organization?

When I was watching Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon on Sunday night during Team North America’s route of Team Finland, I was struck by how the analysts were discussing him.

Indeed, the one quote that stood out to me the most was a comment by either Darren Pang, or John Buccigross — both were covering the game. They were talking about MacKinnon all night because of his stellar play, but the comment that stood out to me was:

"Nathan MacKinnon entered the league as an offensive minded center, but he may leave the league as a prototypical power winger."

That’s more or less verbatim, although it is being taken from memory, so there is a possibility of mistake — unlikely.

Throughout the night there were other tidbits on MacKinnon, such as: “he really balances out this lineup”, and: “he’s bruising, skating, and forechecking”, and one from Kevin Weekes along the lines of: “wow, did you see MacKinnon skate there, that kid can fly” (Weekes was saying “wow” a lot though).

But the one block-quoted above is what stood out to me the most, especially in lieu of my most recent article:

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Spoiler alert: I concluded that MacK should play wing, but let’s look at that in more detail now.

Nathan MacKinnon as a Power Winger

MacKinnon joined the league as a center in the 2013-14 season as the No. 1 overall pick. He weighed in at 180 pounds then. MacKinnon was not fully developed, as no one is when they are 18. He played that season mostly at wing, and finished the year with 63 points — he has not matched that point total since — winning the Calder Trophy.

Whether or not someone within the organization told MacKinnon to bulk up is of little consequence. What does matter is that MacKinnon returned for the 2014-15 season by adding nearly 15 pounds in muscle mass.

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That trend continued into the 2015-16 season, as MacKinnon registed at 205 pounds last season — thus increasing his weight by another 10 pounds from the 2014-15 season to the 2015-16 season.

To me, that trend is continuing at least in his style of play if not also in the amount of muscle he’s sporting this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his weight go up from last year after weigh-ins and physicals.

Either way, MacKinnon has put on 25 pounds of muscle since his rookie season — at least — and his role has developed and changed because of that mass.

Therefore — along with the Avalanche woes on the wing — it’s not unlikely to presume that MacKinnon could be better suited to playing the role of a power winger.

Nathan MacKinnon’s Faceoff Woes

Ok, I guess I wouldn’t necessarily call them faceoff woes, but I would consider MacKinnon and Duchene both top line players. So, in comparison to Duchene, MacKinnon has a faceoff problem.

Over his career — only three seasons, and he’s still only 21 — MacKinnon has maintained a sub-par 46.1 percent faceoff winning percentage. Compared to Duchene’s career — where he has maintained a 51.5 percent (with only one year below the 50 percent mark; his rookie season) winning percentage — MacKinnon’s percentage is certainly not up to snuff.

This is where his use as a power winger may come into play. MacKinnon is not reliable in the faceoff dot, and Duchene is extremely reliable, so it would follow that MacK may be better suited to a wing position.

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Particularly when you take into the account the lack of depth that the Colorado Avalanche have at the wing position. You must also take into account the difficulties that they have had finding suitable chemistry for Duchene.

You would think that a winger with speed, skilled hands, and the ability to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone would mesh real well with Duchene. And, this would be particularly true if that line also included a player with some finishing ability, as well as the hands capable of feeding Duchene and MacKinnon. Enter Mikhail Grigorenko.

The more I look at it, the more I would like to see MacK on the wing for the Avalanche. I think this move would also benefit the future, as the Colorado Avalanche have a top center prospect in Tyson Jost. Jost won’t play the wing, he wouldn’t be suited to that position, and I think that moving MacK to wing now might make Jost’s transition into the NHL easier for the Avalanche.


Coach Jared Bednar is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make in this year’s training camp, and particularly when the World Cup players return.

He’ll have to make choices based on where those players should play, who they should be paired with, and what sort of role he wants them to play.

I believe that Nathan MacKinnon is going to be the most polarizing feature in those decisions for Bednar because Bednar will have to make some tough choices on where MacK will be best utilized.

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MacKinnon is a very capable second line center at this point. He’s not too far below the 50 percent faceoff winning percentage mark expected of top six centers, and he plays a great two-way game.

However, the Colorado Avalanche also have Carl Soderberg, who is clearly capable of playing second line center. If they use Soderberg at center, then the Avalanche will be able to distribute their center depth more evenly, and perhaps create a much more balanced scoring attack.

MacK may end up being one of those centers that gets moved to the wing, and the Avalanche may benefit from that move in unimaginable ways because MacK is very capable of playing the power wing position.