Nathan MacKinnon Set to Return to Stardom After Sophomore Slump

Nathan MacKinnon had some exciting hype surrounding him when he was drafted first overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 NHL Draft. Not Connor McDavid hype, but still pretty intense.

Check out what I think about whether Aaron Ekblad Will Be the Next Victim of the Sophomore Slump!

He was able to live up to expectations in his rookie season, going on to win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie for the year, scoring 24 goals and 63 points. He also provided a much-needed boost that propelled the Avalanche to a surprising Central Division title.

Unfortunately, that success was short-lived.

Nearly every single individual stat for MacKinnon decreased significantly in the 2014-15 campaign. The only category that rose was his penalty minutes. His Avalanche also took a beating in the standings, falling to last in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference.

The Curse of the Sophomore Slump

The myth that is the sophomore slump will forever be argued, whether it is has any real effect on players coming out of their rookie season or not. But, the fact is, something had a striking effect on Nathan MacKinnon in his sophomore year. It may have been that teams learned his tendencies, facing tougher opposing line match ups, or the cursed sophomore slump. Whatever is was, let’s take a minute to compare the 2013-14 year to the ’14-15 season for MacKinnon.

His point total dropped from 63 to 38 (-40%) and goals were down from 24 to 14 (-42%), while his plus/minus dropped 27 points. Mackinnon’s shooting percentage dropped significantly as well, from 10% down to 7.3%. As with the Avalanche’s power play, MacKinnon’s special teams totals took a huge hit. After scoring eight power plays goals and 17 points in his rookie year, he would only score three goals and seven points on the man advantage in 2014-15. On the other hand, his Corsi For % rose from 46.9%, to 48.9%, the highest mark on the Avalanche. His CF% relative to teammates was 6.9%, the 11th highest percentage in the league. His face-off winning percentage also rose from 42.9%, up to 47% last season.

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
MacKinnon received a lot of attention from defenders last year, limiting his offensive production and stealing away some of the young star’s confidence. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Beyond all the numbers, MacKinnon wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was the year prior. Opposing teams became aware of his insane acceleration and his tendency to try to blow by defenders. So, teams defended MacKinnon by simply keeping him to the outside of the offensive zone. He wasn’t able to get towards the net as often, which limited his creation of scoring chances exponentially. MacKinnon also seemed to be trying to do too much when he got the puck. Always trying to get to the net and fire a shot as soon as he got the puck resulted in many low percentage plays.

MacKinnon is Set to Become a Superstar in ’15-16

Despite his, and the Avalanche’s, struggles in 2014-15, there are many reasons to believe that a much more successful year is just around the corner. Remember after his rookie year, many were actually predicting MacKinnon to challenge for the Art Ross Trophy. There’s no reason why he couldn’t breakout and challenge for it this year instead.

On a very talented offensive team, MacKinnon will once again be surrounded by players with tremendous potential. Unfortunately, that potential has been extremely inconsistent season-to-season. But, as MacKinnon continues to grow, he will make his line-mates that much better, just as he did throughout his entire junior career, most notably with the Halifax Mooseheads on their way to a Memorial Cup.

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
MacKinnon needs to slow the game down around him to open up more opportunities to find his teammates. He’s looked great so far in preseason action. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

His shooting percentage should return to above 10%, as most solid goal-scorers see their mark land around 13%. If MacKinnon can find himself some extra puck luck and score on, say 12%, of his shots, we could be in for an exciting season. 12% last year would’ve potted him 23 goals. The World Championship also seemed to restore confidence in MacKinnon’s game. After the Avalanche were eliminated from playoff contention, MacKinnon went overseas to represent Canada. They went on to win the gold medal, with MacKinnon contributing four goals and nine points in their 10 games.

He’s also looked very solid in preseason so far. MacKinnon looks even stronger in his skating, rarely getting knocked off the puck. He also seems to be slowing down the game around him, allowing him to see more opportunities and create scoring chances. Last year, he tried to do everything as quickly as possible, but slowing down to open up the ice and passing lanes has made MacKinnon much more dangerous. In his two games so far, he has recorded two assists, and a team high seven shots on net.

Related: Check out Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby take on the Tim Horton’s drive thru.

Prediction:

We’ve witnessed spurts of MacKinnon’s raw talent and hockey sense, which made him the 2013-14 Calder Trophy winner. After a less than impressive sophomore which included a broken foot, fans have become skeptical of what MacKinnon, along with the Avalanche, are truly capable of producing. But, from what he showed the world in junior hockey and his first year, there’s a high chance that he will return to stardom in 2015-16. As he gains experience on a young roster, he should blossom into one of the best point producers in the NHL.

A fair expectation for Nathan MacKinnon would be 25 goals and 60 points. Although still below his rookie totals, it would be a major rebound for the 20-year-old phenom. Nonetheless, make sure to keep an eye on Mackinnon for the ’15-16 campaign.

How many goals and points do you think Nathan MacKinnon will score in 2015-16?

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