Injuries to Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog have put the spotlight on Nathan MacKinnon. This is the opportunity he’s needed to be the star he’s meant to be.
The future of the Colorado Avalanche changed on the day they drafted Nathan MacKinnon. Based on skill and potential alone, in one afternoon MacKinnon supplanted Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson as the face of the Colorado Avalanche franchise.
MacKinnon had a strong and exciting rookie season in 2013-14, in which he captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie, scoring 63 points in 82 games. Following an incredible rookie season, MacKinnon’s next two seasons can only be described as disappointing. In both, he saw his points per game drop below that of his rookie year totals, while the Avs struggled to play consistently, ultimately missing the playoffs both years.
It seemed that the success and failure of the Avs as a team was mirrored in the play of Nathan MacKinnon, the de facto face and future of the franchise – And after two seasons fraught with disappointment, MacKinnon’s role as the superstar forward he was projected to be has remained suspect.
MacKinnon’s fate changed this past August following the resignation of head coach, Patrick Roy. While players expressed their support for Roy throughout his tenure, many questioned his ability to lead the young core of Avs forwards to success.
These struggles looked to be at an end following the hiring of new head coach, Jared Bednar. Promising an uptempo attack and aggressive forecheck, it seemed that maybe MacKinnon would get the support and guidance he would need to become the player everyone expects him to be.
Unfortunately, success doesn’t come easy. Seventeen games into Bednar’s tenure, and the Avs have posted a disappointing record of 8-9. Currently the Avs are 27th overall in goals scored per game, and 21st overall in goals allowed. Meanwhile, MacKinnon, who’s played in all 17 games, has put up four goals and eight assists – nothing to snub your nose at, but not as much as we’d all hoped for.
Then something incredible happened – leading scorer Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog got hurt. By all logic, this should’ve been a moment of panic for the Avs, but instead it’s been a wonderful opportunity for the Avs, especially Nathan MacKinnon.
In the last four games without Duchene, and the last two without both Duchene and Landeskog, the Avs have posted a 2-2 record. While that won’t stand out to anyone, the real story has been in the play of MacKinnon. Anyone watching these last few games should’ve seen a change in the young alternate captains play.
Although he was quiet against Boston in a 2-0 loss on November 13, he came out flying two days later against the Kings and put up an incredible 10 shots on goal. While he didn’t get any points in this game, it was clear that something had changed in his game.
The Avs next game in Dallas – a 3-2 loss- should’ve been disappointing had it not been for the MacKinnon’s play. Aside from scoring a shorthanded goal and adding an assist in the third period, MacKinnon led the Avs in a spirited offensive attack that was held back by some stellar goaltending. Most importantly though, MacKinnon was finding and creating scoring chances. This is the sign of a goal scorer, and even if he missed a couple opportunities and probably could’ve ended with a hat trick, at least he was getting the chances, which has not been the case throughout the year.
Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild saw MacKinnon pick up where he left off against the Stars. After going down 2-0 against the best statistical goaltender in the league, things didn’t look great for the Avs. But, again, MacKinnon led a second half attack against the Wild, setting up the Avs first goal with a beautiful cross ice pass to Mikko Rantanen and scoring the game winning goal on a mesmerizing charge up the ice.
If Nathan MacKinnon becomes the star player he’s supposed to be, last night was his coming out party. Since his rookie year, his skills have been on display for the league, but he never found a way to put it all together. Last night, and in the two games before it, Avs fans finally saw what it looks like when MacKinnon takes the reigns of the game.
Without Duchene and Landeskog in the lineup, it’s been up to MacKinnon to lead the team. Instead of being at a disadvantage, he’s made the most of the opportunity and shown the type of impact player he’s always projected to be.
According to coach Bednar, “that’s a handful of games now where he’s been really good. He wasn’t getting rewarded for some of his good play earlier in the season. But that’s two games in a row now where it’s starting to come for him and you can tell he’s seizing the moment”
Hopefully these games are turning points, not just in the Avs seasons, but in the career of Nathan MacKinnon. With all the offensive skills he possesses, he should always be a threat and a game changer for the Colorado Avalanche. It seems that so far, he’s lacked the confidence to make use of all the talent he has.