He’s only 17 years old, but Nathan MacKinnon is already highly-touted, so much so that he could upend Seth Jones as the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
MacKinnon is a native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same hometown as Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby. Projected as a top-three selection on draft day, MacKinnon has drawn inevitable comparisons to Crosby for years.
The pressure of living up to that hope aside, he might have the elite skill set to do just that.
MacKinnon’s defining ability is arguably his skating, and his exceptional speed makes him difficult to defend.
“Speed kills, and he has it in spades,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “He’s one of the most explosive skaters to come into the NHL in many years. In his first three steps, he gets out of the blocks quicker than anyone we’ve seen in years and years.”
The right-shooting center has a myriad of offensive creativity and a convincing capacity to finish. Measuring in at six feet and 182 pounds, MacKinnon packs more physicality than might be expected from a player his size.
“He’s a great player on the forecheck with the puck because he gets on top of people so quickly,” MacDonald said. “He’s a very strong guy. He’s not a huge player, but he’s strong. He’s very quick and very smart.”
MacKinnon skated as a rookie in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a 16-year-old. He was better than a point-per-game producer, tallying 31 goals and 47 assists (78 points) in 58 games. His 47 assists led all QMJHL rookies, and he finished second behind Mikhail Grigorenko (selected 12th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) in rookie of the year voting. In 17 ensuing playoff games, MacKinnon posted 13 goals and 15 assists (28 points), as Halifax fell to Rimouski in the QMJHL seminfinals.
In 2012-13, MacKinnon skated in just 44 regular-season games, as he was sidelined for 14 games in February and March with a knee injury. Despite the setback, he still recorded 32 goals and 43 assists (75 points), one of those goals coming on his first shift in his first game back from injury.
MacKinnon represented Team Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Russia, but it was his 2013 postseason performance that drew widespread attention. As Halifax cruised to the QMJHL championship, winning 16 of 17 games, MacKinnon posted 33 points (11g, 22a). He then led the Mooseheads to their first Memorial Cup title, pacing the tournament in scoring with 13 points (7g, 6a) in just four games, including a hat-trick in the championship game. He was named the tournament’s MVP.
Just a day older than fellow draft prospect Aleksander Barkov, MacKinnon met the age requirements for this year’s draft class by just a couple of weeks. He enters next weekend as the NHL’s Central Scouting Service’s second-ranked North American skater.
Similar to Jones and Barkov, it’s hard to see MacKinnon dropping out of the top three selections. He’s an elite offensive talent with a skill set that makes prospective teams salivate.
“He’s an explosive and dynamic player who is fun to watch,” MacDonald said. “With that exceptional speed, you’re always looking for that if you can add it in your lineup.”
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