Nathan MacKinnon is hovering at centre ice, waiting for an official to give him the go-ahead. When he receives the signal, that’s when the fun begins.
He corrals the puck and confidently glides over a few feet to the right as he crosses the blueline. Stickhandling as he accelerates, MacKinnon leans left, then back to the right. Lifting his back foot as though he’s about to shoot, MacKinnon swiftly fakes a shot. Then, in rapid motion, he quickly shifts the puck back and forth as he nears the crease, and fakes another move.
Philippe Trudeau, guarding twine for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, attempts a poke check as he swims on the blue ice. MacKinnon, knowing what’s coming, slides the puck underneath Trudeau’s stick. Shifting his body to Trudeau’s left, MacKinnon slides the puck into the far corner of the net.
After nearly running into the referee who’s confirming the shootout goal, MacKinnon casually skates away from the net and back to his bench. His Halifax Mooseheads will end up winning the game by a score of 3-2 in front of their home crowd.
It’s just another day in the life of the most analyzed Canadian hockey player since Sidney Crosby.
“His skill level with the quickness with which he can execute, read and react — there aren’t many players who can do that,” NHL central scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com.
There aren’t many players who have been watched through hawk eyes years before they began high school, either.
A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same community that bred Crosby, MacKinnon isn’t like top prospects of past years.
MacKinnon’s considered a rare breed; players like him don’t come around every season. Many will say the last time a prospect of his calibre was NHL Draft-eligible was in 2005, the year Crosby was selected first-overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby essentially saved a franchise. Given the way MacKinnon has performed to date, the Mooseheads forward could potentially do the same.
“He’s great in every department,” Halifax general manager Cam Russell told the Toronto Star. “He’s got great vision, extremely quick hands … he can reach full speed in about two strides, he can just accelerate.”
The list goes on for a while. MacKinnon has skill in so many parts of his game, both with and without the puck. And he showed it during the recent Subway Super Series.
In the first game of two representing the QMJHL, MacKinnon was held pointless, and was more involved physically than offensively. While it’s not the way scouts would prefer he played, it showed a second-dimension to his game.
MacKinnon must have learned something from Game 1, as he came out in the second game and led his team to victory over the Russians. Chemistry was apparent between MacKinnon and Florida Panthers’ top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau, who plays for the Saint John Sea Dogs. The two worked together multiple times to create goals. Clearly, the two are comfortable playing alongside each other.
From a young age, coaches knew MacKinnon was different than the other kids. There was just something about him that led one of his former coaches to believe he would be a star.
“He was different,” Jon Greenwood, who coached MacKinnon when he was small, told NHL.com. “His skating was something that jumped out at me right away. As that first season went on, I started to think, ‘Gee, this is the best first-year peewee player we’ve seen in some time.’ That eventually grew to my thinking there may not be as good a player in the province and maybe even Canada.”
MacKinnon’s also unique in that he’s a goal-scorer who also excels at running people over. He’s not shy when it comes to contact. Since he’s been targeted by opponents for years, MacKinnon’s learned when to get out of the way, but he also knows when to step up and knock down incoming players who intend to take him out.
It’s very possible he could be on Canada’s World Junior team this winter. The tournament is being played in Ufa, Russia this time around, and MacKinnon would love to be there. He’s no lock to make the team, but his play early on is showing he deserves to receive the congratulatory phone call.
As for the Crosby comparisons, MacKinnon’s used to them, and doesn’t let them affect his mindset. He’d much prefer to play his own style and not worry about all the expectations.
“I knew right off the hop that I was never going to be Sidney,” MacKinnon told the Toronto Sun. “I admire his game but, other than that, I know I’m not him. The comparisons are made because of where I’m from, but I’m just trying to create my own game and be known for what I do myself.”