WEEHAWKEN, N.J. — Nathan MacKinnon called linemate Jonathan Drouin the most skilled player in the 2013 draft. Drouin called MacKinnon the most explosive skater whose complete game and compete level will allow the Halifax Mooseheads centre to transition into the NHL next season.
That should be for Colorado, which owns the first overall selection Sunday in Newark, N.J. It could be for someone with a shuffle of the selection order — the Avalanche were initially sold on defenceman Seth Jones and wouldn’t rule out trading the pick — but the consensus on a sweltering Friday at a water-side news conference was that MacKinnon was ready to take the professional plunge. Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, a former QMJHL bench boss, said it would be tough not to take MacKinnon and slot him as a third-line centre.
“I’m pretty confident I can play next year in the NHL and have a good impact,” said MacKinnon. “I want to be more than just ready to play. I don’t want to hang on and not help the team win. I’m not looking for 26 minutes a night, but I’ll earn what I get and like to think I’m a good all-round player.
“I’m a very competitive guy and always want to be the best I can be and have a love of the game. I skated the last two summers with Sidney Crosby and it seems like he’s a machine out there. He never gets tired. And it’s not just a natural skill, he worked at it and that’s the exciting part.”
What really sets MacKinnon apart is his ability to perform under pressure. While others succumb to great expectation on the greatest of stages, MacKinnon delivers. The most valuable player in the 2013 Memorial Cup had seven goals and 13 points in the tournament — including a hat trick and five points in the 6-4 final victory over the Portland Winterhawks — and in 34 career QMJHL playoff games, the 17-year-old Halifax native had 24 goals and 61 points. Too many NHL teams see great regular-season players disappear in the playoffs. This guy shows up.
“Knowing you can do that under the spotlight is good for your confidence,” added MacKinnon. “But if I didn’t score a goal in the final, it wouldn’t have mattered. As long as we won.”
None of this surprises NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr. You have to go back four drafts to find a centre who could potentially impact the game with skating, smarts, release and the willingness to win. However, Marr believes MacKinnon’s quickness is even better than the New York Islanders star who has piled up 112 goals and 249 points in 291 regular-season games since being the first-overall selection in 2009. MacKinnon had 32 goals and 75 points in 44 regular-season games this season.
“He has a very strong competitive instinct and his quickness to pull away is something I haven’t seen in a number of years,” Marr said of MacKinnon. “He’s a far more powerful skater that JT was at that age. Over the course of year, his physical development is visible and that’s hard to see at this age group.”
So, can MacKinnon really play next season?
“Yes,” added Marr. “It’s not the skill. It’s the physical development and the hockey sense that would allow him to do that.”
All that was developed through a supportive sporting lineage. MacKinnon’s father, Graham, was a small-town Junior B goalie and his mom, Kathy, swam competitively. It’s no different than any other kid because without the guidance and sacrifice of his parents, MacKinnon probably wouldn’t be poised to be the No. 1 pick Sunday. Attending last year’s draft in Pittsburgh has helped deal with the whirlwind of appearances and interviews.
“If you think too much about it, you can psyche yourself out,” said MacKinnon. “You’re not expected to save a franchise. It would be a huge honour to go No. 1 and especially Colorado — but they haven’t told me anything. And it would be an awesome experience to play for Patrick Roy. He develops players very well, especially in Quebec, and he has a winning mentality.”
If the Avalanche do take MacKinnon, they’ll also draft the consummate team player. Asked about Drouin, he lauded the winger’s ability to do it all as a potential top-three pick Sunday.
“Definitely the most skilled player in the draft,” said MacKinnon. “The things he can do with the puck are pretty cool — he can slow down and control the tempo.”
Told of being trumpeted, Drouin had this to say about his buddy’s readiness for the NHL: “That’s great coming from him, but he’s the most explosive guy in this draft and you don’t see that every day. Nate can step in and play in the NHL and can pretty much play any role.”
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