MacKinnon & Rantanen’s Formidable Season

Only four times in Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise history have two teammates each recorded 60 or more points in the first 43 games of a season. It first happened in 1987-88 with Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny. It happened in 1992-93 with Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin. It happened again in 1995-96 with Sakic and Peter Forsberg.

This season marks the fourth time with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. In only the first and last of the four instances, however, did the two teammates each record 65 or more points in the first 43 games.

Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques
Peter Stastny (above) and Michel Goulet each recorded at least 65 points in the first 43 games of the 1987-88 season, the same as Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen in 2018-19. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Stastny had 67 points and Goulet had 65 in the Nordiques’ first 43 games of the 1987-88 season and now MacKinnon and Rantanen have become the first teammates in Avalanche history to accomplish the same feat, MacKinnon with 65 and Rantanen with 66 points through 43 games.

To accomplish what not even Sakic and Forsberg accomplished is special, let alone doing it at ages 22 (Rantanen) and 23 (MacKinnon). Here’s a closer look at how good these two linemates have been this season:

Among NHL Leaders in Most Categories

As of Jan. 9, Rantanen and MacKinnon are top-five in the league in most major statistical categories this season.

Through 43 Games Points Goals Assists Points-Per-Game Power Play Points (PPP) Even-Strength Points
Rantanen 66 (2nd) 19 (T-28th) 47 (2nd) 1.53 (2nd) 23 (3rd) 43 (3rd)
MacKinnon 65 (3rd) 25 (T-7th) 40 (T-5th) 1.51 (3rd) 24 (2nd) 41 (5th)

Goals are the only major category where there is a slight dip, as Rantanen only has 19, placing him just inside the top-30 in the league, while MacKinnon’s 25 goals have him tied for seventh. Rantanen’s 10 power-play goals, however, are tied for fourth league-wide, while MacKinnon’s 19 even-strength goals are tied for fifth.

MacKinnon also easily ranks first in the league in shots on goal (SOG) with 198, 25 more than any other player. He also has the fourth-most shot attempts (iCF) in all situations with 311.

NHL Teammates This Good Is Extremely Rare

While NHL scoring as a whole is up this season — the highest it’s been since 2005-06 — there’s no denying it’s been a while since two teammates have been this good past the halfway point of a season.

Since the 2005 NHL lockout, only six players have recorded 65 or more points in a team’s first 43 games of a season. Jaromir Jagr did it in 2005-06, Sidney Crosby did it in 2006-07 and in 2010-11, Evgeni Malkin did it in 2008-09, and Nikita Kucherov, MacKinnon, and Rantanen all have done it this season. Of that group, only MacKinnon and Rantanen were teammates who accomplished the feat in the same season.

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon leads the NHL in shots on goal by a wide margin. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Going back even further, the last time two teammates recorded 65 or more points in the first 43 games of a season was 1996-97, when Jagr had 68 points and Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux had 75, making MacKinnon and Rantanen the first teammates to accomplish the feat in 22 years.

Can MacKinnon and Rantanen Keep This Up?

The two Avalanche teammates are on pace for over 120 points each this season. No player has hit that milestone in the last decade, with Crosby being the last player to accomplish it in 2006-07 (120 points in 79 games). Hitting 120 points this season will be tough for MacKinnon and Rantanen, but it’s still possible,  though it might depend on special teams.

Right now, the Avalanche are sixth in the NHL in goals for with 148. Pretty good, right? Well, the Avs are 15th in the league in 5-on-5 goals for (85). That is with the trio of MacKinnon, Rantanen and captain Gabe Landeskog leading the NHL in goal production as a line. Those three can’t do much better than they have been at 5-on-5. Keeping up this pace will be incredibly difficult, meaning MacKinnon and Rantanen’s even-strength production may take a hit in the second half.

MacKinnon Rantanen Landeskog Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon (left) and Mikko Rantanen (center) are each on pace for over 120 points this season. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

That brings me to the Avs’ power play, which has also provided a large chunk of their individual production. As a team, the Avalanche are first in the league in 5-on-4 goals for (40) and, as noted earlier, MacKinnon and Rantanen are second and third in the league in PPP.

For their overall production to continue, the team’s power play needs to keep operating as well as it has, ranking fifth in the league at 26.5 per cent. Last season, their power play finished the season at 21.9 per cent. Rantanen recorded 35 power-play points and MacKinnon recorded 32.

If the Avs’ power play drops a few percentage points in the second half and the duo fail to reach 40 PPP each, it likely won’t be good enough for them to hit the 120-point plateau this season.

100-Point Milestone a Near Certainty

Barring significant injury, it’s safe to say both MacKinnon and Rantanen will top 100 points this year. With 39 games remaining, both could produce at half their current rate and still almost hit 100 points. Even if they don’t hit 120, let’s remember how significant 100 points are in terms of Avalanche history. Sakic and Forsberg were the only Avs ever to score 100 points or more in a season (Sakic three times and Forsberg twice).

That is some elite company and a reminder to all fans that a) MacKinnon is on the best contract in the league at $6.3 million per season and b) Rantanen is going to get paid this summer. What exactly Rantanen is worth will be a topic to visit a little bit down the road. For now, enjoy the show.