The time has at last come for the final installment of the player preview series for the upcoming season, concluding with none other than superstar in the making, Nathan MacKinnon. After just his first year in the NHL, it is clear that MacKinnon is on track to become one of the best players in the world, and it is exciting to anticipate him getting even better as he gains professional experience.
MacKinnon was the first player in Colorado Avalanche history to be selected first overall in the draft, as the team used the first pick in last year's draft on the exceptionally talented forward. The prevailing "wisdom" at the time was that Colorado desperately needed a defenseman, and since defenseman Seth Jones was NHL Central Scouting's highest rated North American skater, surely the Avalanche would do the logical thing and draft Jones. Yet, several days before the draft, Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic said that they were leaning heavily towards MacKinnon. With possession of the first overall pick, Colorado didn't have to be secretive about their plans for the first round, as other teams would have to be. You don't have to worry about what teams ahead of you will do when no one is ahead of you. And sure enough, on draft day it was MacKinnon's name that Sakic called when he announced Colorado's selection.
The given reasoning for choosing MacKinnon over Jones was that in the eyes of all involved with the decision, MacKinnon wasn't just the best overall player in the draft in 2013, but that he was a very special talent, the likes of which are only available once every few years. If you happen to be picking first in a year when a player like that comes along, the choice is obvious, but only if you recognize the talent in the first place. NHL Central Scouting did not apparently recognize MacKinnon's talent. He has already justified Colorado's decision to draft him, as he ran away with the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year as an 18 year old. He had 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points as the only player on the team to play in all 82 regular season games. And that is literally just the beginning.
As has been previously mentioned on Avalanche 101, there is a general expectation for MacKinnon to continue playing on a line with captain Gabriel Landeskog. Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly are also expected to remain on the same line. The next logical question is who will be the third player on both of those lines? Newly acquired Jarome Iginla and his fellow veteran Alex Tanguay will probably round out the top six, but either player could fit on either line. Whichever way head coach Patrick Roy decides to do it, the Avalanche will have two top lines that mirror each other. Both lines would have two young, tremendously talented players alongside a proven, battle-tested veteran.
But this educated speculation about lines begs another question: which line will be the top line? MacKinnon with Landeskog is a deadly pair, but Duchene and O'Reilly can fairly be considered just as deadly. Between MacKinnon and Duchene, who will be the top center? This question was addressed in the player preview article for Duchene. There is just no reasonable way to definitively say how it will play out.
Whether he plays primarily as the top center or second line center, MacKinnon has as much natural talent as anyone in the league. Assuming he continues developing as time goes along, he could very well surpass 30 goals in a single season as a 19 year old. By this time next year, he may be the obvious choice to center the top line. The sky is the limit for MacKinnon, and he gives Avalanche fans a lot to look forward to.
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Tags: Alex Tanguay, Colorado, Colorado Avalanche, Gabriel Landeskog, Hockey, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Patrick Roy, Ryan O'Reilly