After a horrific 2012-2013 season the Colorado Avalanche were left with the first overall selection in the 2013 NHL draft. With this pick they selected forward Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads.
Some believed the Avalanche would have used this first overall pick to bolster its struggling blue line by selecting promising defenceman Seth Jones but that would turn out to not be the case. Selecting MacKinnon that year was one of many major changes brought to the organization in a short span of time. Former franchise goalie and Hall Of Famer Patrick Roy was named head coach, Avalanche hero Alex Tanguay was brought back to Denver via a trade with the Calgary Flames, and what was described as a new era of hockey began in Denver.
In today’s NHL, if a player is selected with the first overall pick, the player is expected to step right into the NHL lineup and make a difference. MacKinnon did this and he did not disappoint. A phenomenal season lead to the Avalanche making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons and MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the league.
Like most players that have an excellent first year, MacKinnon was hit hard by the so called sophomore slump. In his first year where everything just seemed to go right for the kid, his second season was the exact opposite. His point production decreased, he suffered an injury that kept him out long term, even his landlord, Max Talbot, was traded away by the Avalanche. MacKinnon has shown that he is a special player and he fits right in with the other young forwards on this Avalanche roster but what can the Avalanche expect from him in his third season in the NHL?
When his rookie campaign started the Avalanche organization said time and time again there was no pressure on MacKinnon to perform. All they wanted to start with was him to gain experience and see ice time at the NHL level. Five games into the season however, MacKinnon scored his first NHL goal and teams would struggle all season to keep him off the score sheet. That goal, scored against the Washington Capitals, would be the first of 24 goals MacKinnon would score that season. While the goal production was nice, MacKinnon also chipped in 39 assists giving him a regular season point total of 63.
63 points as a rookie is nothing to laugh at but a couple other things stand out when you look at MacKinnon’s rookie season. He was one of only two Avalanche players to play all 82 games that season, 6 foot 6 tough guy Patrick Bordeleau was the other. In those 82 games, MacKinnon finished with a plus/minus rating of, wait for it, +20. Yes you read that right +20 as a rookie.
As the season moved into the playoffs MacKinnon picked up right where he left off. Most of the Avalanche players were experiencing the playoffs for the first time when the first round series against the Minnesota Wild started but MacKinnon was not fazed. In seven games MacKinnon collected 10 points, two goals and eight assists. His goal in game 2 was the talk of the first round and was seen time and time again around the world.
With all the success the Avalanche and MacKinnon experienced in the 2013-2014 season, hopes were high for the 2014-2015 season. It was well noted that MacKinnon came to camp 15 pounds heavier than the previous season and it was all muscle mass due to his off season work out. When the Avalanche won only three games in the month of October it was a bit of a shot in the arm that the past was the past and this was a new season.
Unfortunately, the Avalanche never recovered from the slow start and a team with tons of young talent was often led by elder
statesmen Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. The Avalanche went from Central Division winners and a playoff team one season to finishing last in the Central Division and having a top ten draft pick the following season. AS the overall stats would suggest the players production decreased as well.
Instead of playing in 82 games MacKinnon was only healthy for 64 games of the regular season last year. He scored 10 less goals finishing the season with only 14, and had 15 fewer assists finishing with only 24. His total point production fell from an impressive 63 points to a hard earned 38. That is a 25 point drop from his amazing rookie season to a sophomore season that was absolutely a slump.
The largest and most glaring change in MacKinnon’s stats from his first season to his second was in the plus/minus category. What was an amazing +20 became an unfortunate -7 in 2014-2015. A number of factors contributed to this swing but maybe most of all was the fact that MacKinnon was no longer playing next to Paul Stastny whom he had so much success with his rookie season. Stastny decided to move on from Denver as a free agent in 2014 when he signed with the St. Louis Blues. MacKinnon and Stastny were magic that one year they played together and that was a big adjustment for the Avalanche to figure out.
In early March, just as the Avalanche seemed to be getting going, it was announced that MacKinnon had broken his foot and would miss 6-8 weeks. Right away this mean that baring a miraculous run down the stretch that got the Avalanche into the playoffs MacKinnon’s season was over.
No need to panic Avalanche faithful, MacKinnon will bounce back. This kid has shown just how special he is and has given glimpses as to how special he is going to be. MacKinnon may not duplicate his rookie season point production but if he falls somewhere between his two season that would still be a good year. Effectively that would mean scoring 20 goals on top of producing 30 assists.
If MacKinnon can once again be a 50 point producer for the Avalanche, the final season of his entry-level contract will be a success. Now, without looking to far ahead, keep in mind that this is the last year of his contract and MacKinnon is going to get paid. He will be getting paid by the Avalanche and this young kid is going to be wearing the Avalanche A on his chest for the bulk of his career. MacKinnon is one of three major contract issues the Avalanche need to sort out over the coming season, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie being the other two.
Over the past two seasons MacKinnon got stronger with every game that he played. This will only be his third season and he just barely played in 150 NHL games. MacKinnon has at least a decade of good hockey left in him and he will consistently produce numbers closer to his phenomenal rookie season instead of his sophomore slump.
I am a University of New Mexico journalism student who has been watching NHL hockey since 1996 and I started playing hockey myself in 2003. I have covered both college soccer and volleyball in the past and I also contribute to a NASCAR news website.