Connor McDavid is, rightfully so, always atop any list when ranking NHL players. Nathan MacKinnon has an opportunity to jump him.
Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche might be a year older than Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, but you almost feel like MacKinnon gets the “younger sibling” treatment when comparing the two. Look up any “best of the NHL” list and you will always, I mean always, see Connor McDavid’s name at the top. 100 times out of 100. Where does Nathan MacKinnon fall in those rankings? It can fluctuate but you can usually find him between two and four depending on the site. Not bad.
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The one undeniable truth is that McDavid and MacKinnon are NHL elite. The comparisons between the two are similar. An overall #1 selection in their respective drafts, off the charts scoring ability, lightning fast speed. The list goes on. Yes McDavid belongs at the top of any ranking and MacKinnon is always right behind him, for now.
Being a fan of the Colorado Avalanche will make you somewhat biased towards MacKinnon. Not because he doesn’t take the top spot in at least some of these rankings, but because he seems to be a footnote to McDavid. Because he isn’t the consensus #2 behind McDavid rubs a lot of Avs fans the wrong way (that guy named Sidney still seems to creep into these rankings ahead of MacKinnon). Because he still seems to be that guy that outside of NHL circles the casual fan has probably heard of, but most likely hasn’t watched to see his excellence.
Hear pundits talk about McDavid and you would think the separation between Connor and Nathan is the size of the Grand Canyon.
Sure Nathan MacKinnon gets the respect from any opponent the Avalanche play, and listen to the commentators call the games he plays in and they are in awe of his ability. Yet, he is not the household name of guys like McDavid or even P.K. Subban or Henrik Lundqvist. Ask MacKinnon and he probably likes it that way but any fan wants their team and their superstar to get noticed by the masses. It just gives you that fuzzy feeling inside.
However, there is one way Nathan MacKinnon can catapult his way ahead of Connor McDavid on every ranking list. Win a Stanley Cup before McDavid does. It’s a simple answer that isn’t so simple to achieve. I mentioned Sidney Crosby earlier and how he still finds his name towards the top of NHL rankings despite him not being the player he once was.
The reason for this is because he is a Stanley Cup champion multiple times over in addition to everything he has achieved over his career. We all know the expectation when Crosby came into the league and he has checked off every one of those boxes towards greatness. Having championships in your back pocket will keep you at the top of the rankings for the entirety of his career. It makes sense.
McDavid and MacKinnon have checked off boxes of their own and while McDavid might have checked off a few more than MacKinnon in terms of personal achievements regarding NHL awards, neither have checked off the box labeled ‘Stanley Cup champion’ and that is a box that holds more weight than any personal award.
If you were to right now, release a ranking of NHL players and put MacKinnon ahead of McDavid your name would get dragged through the social media mud and people would be calling for your journalism credentials to be stripped. Now, think if you released a ranking after Nathan MacKinnon has won a championship. People would be more inclined to accept that since one has a championship attached to their name and one doesn’t.
Think about the opposite. If McDavid remained at the top spot even after MacKinnon wins a Cup how many people would look at that and say “but he hasn’t won a Cup?”. I know I would.
When an elite player wins a championship it’s difficult to argue their excellence. It’s one thing to talk about their talent but when they reach the pinnacle of their sport that’s a different conversation. So much is expected of these top tier athletes and the one way to judge them is championships. Alex Ovechkin slid right into that “best player ever” conversation the minute the Washington Capitals won the Cup removing the end of that phrase that had “to never win a title” attached to it. The same goes for players like John Elway and Ray Bourque.
These players went through almost their entire career before winning it all and being in these “best ever” conversations. The earlier you can get the championship under your belt, the fewer questions there are about your status within the league. You move from one category to another.
Right now ranking these two stems from talent, ability and awards and the latter is what gives McDavid the nod over MacKinnon. If Nathan MacKinnon can land himself a Stanley Cup before Connor McDavid does, he immediately moves into the top slot of ranking NHL players, or he takes the top spot in some of those rankings lists. If McDavid wins one first he will stay there for the foreseeable future, but his reign of topping 100 out of 100 lists will be over if MacKinnon gets there first.