Mack the Nate

Exactly two NHL players have been born in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, a town of about 25,000 people on the Atlantic coast east of Halifax.  One is Sidney Crosby, among the superstars of his generation, and future Hall of Famer.  The other is Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon, rookie for the upstart Colorado Avalanche, has been a standout at every level of hockey he has yet experienced.  He is quickly making a name for himself on the national stage in 2013-14 as the 18 year old phenom capable of handling a speeding puck more deftly than Garfield handles a lasagna:

MacKinnon

The lines and angles on that play are so perfect that they’d make an architect blush.  And it is what we have come to expect from MacKinnon, himself barely old enough to ride a motorcycle unsupervised.

MacKinnon was selected by the Colorado Avalanche last year as the first overall pick in the NHL Draft, despite widely touted prospect Seth Jones being a Denver native.  So far, Mack is making coach Patrick Roy and honcho Joe Sakic, both Colorado legends themselves, look brilliant.  He is the runaway Calder Trophy winner as the best rookie in the league this year.  He broke Wayne Gretzky’s record for the longest points streak for an 18 year old (13 games) in NHL history.  This week, he tied the NHL record for most points (7) in a player’s first two playoff games.

You could slather yourself in rubber cement and roll around on the floor of a frat house basement and still not be as filthy as MacKinnon’s first career playoff goal, which came yesterday in game 2 against the Minnesota Wild:

MacKinnon is the culmination of what I think of as the “critical mass” concept, where a crappy team gets a high draft pick and lands a good player, but it’s not enough to make the team good.  The team then gets another high draft pick and lands another good player, but again, it’s not enough to pull the team out of the cellar.  The team uses another high draft pick on another good player, and suddenly, it is a team full of stellar young players.  We have seen this happen before with teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden).  The Avalanche had a stockpile of picks in 2009 and landed young studs Matt Duchene (3rd pick overall) and Ryan O’Reilly, among others.  In 2011, they nabbed Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog with the 2nd overall pick.  Then MacKinnon was 1st overall in 2013.  They are joined by 25 year old (and former first-round pick) goaltender Semyon Varlamov, 2006 1st overall pick Erik Johnson (acquired by trade), and solid son-of-a-Hall-of-Famer center Paul Stastny.

MacKinnon appears to be one of the rarest commodities in sports — a youngster with seemingly unlimited potential and a head screwed on straight.

MacKinnon2

The scary thought is, what if MacKinnon is just getting started?  His body will be fully developed…in a few years.  His experience and knowledge of the NHL game will be considerable…in a few seasons.  He plays on a fluid line and has gelled with dynamite teammates…several of whom are 23 or younger.  His facial hair…probably will always look awful.  We can’t win ’em all.

The team is incredibly fun to watch, and looks primed for a deep run in 2014, and every year going forward as long as Varly holds up in goal.  And it all came together with a lightning quick, ahead-of-his-years kid from New Scotland.  Filling Crosby’s huge shoes is a tough task, but Mack’s feet are looking bigger by the day.

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