Anyone who doesn’t think the 18-year-old Colorado Avalanche sensation is going to be a superstar knows very little about the game. MacKinnon can change the outcome of any contest on any night and few teams have figured out a way to cover him or even match his blazing speed and he’s just getting started in the best league in the World.
With an assist on Colorado’s empty net goal—from Paul Stastny—on Tuesday night in Illinois, MacKinnon not only continued making his case for Rookie of the Year, but also surpassed some of the best company in the NHL with his first-year efforts.
Riding an 11-game point streak entering the contest against the Chicago Blackhawks, MacKinnon’s string of goals and assists topped that of some of the top talent in the league— Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews—compared to their debut seasons. With the helper on Stastny’s goal, the Avalanche rookie went a step further, tying none other than Wayne Gretzky for his string of points as an 18-year-old, according to the Avalanche.
A streak that dates back to 1979-80.
So what’s the secret to success for MacKinnon?
“I’ve been more confident lately, I think. I’m more comfortable, especially (because), I think, our line will stay together for a little while,” said the freshman forward on Monday. “Which is exciting because, all year it feels like it’s been juggled but right now it feels like its pretty concrete and that’s exciting.”
Playing wing alongside Stastny and Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog has become a powerful combination for Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy, who seems to fortuitously get the most out of each and every player on the roster. The trio has been integral in helping the Avalanche to many a victory, particularly since the end of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“The last couple games we’ve been clicking and we’ve been really communicating well, on and off the ice, which is very important for our chemistry,” said MacKinnon. “We can talk about set plays and really create some chemistry and I think we’ve been doing that as a line.”
Another reason for the stellar debut of the player pegged as the next Sidney Crosby is the depth of the Avalanche offense. With Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly leaving opposing goaltenders undressed and blushing, and the blue collar efforts from the bottom six producing points when needed, MacKinnon and his cohorts are often free to work their own magic.
Teams can’t always stack up against wave after wave of youthful ambition and perseverance, which leads to more than a few tallies from the second line.
“There’s so many good players on our team, from the front end to the back end. There’s lots for teams to worry about. It’s nice how we’re so deep,” said MacKinnon. “Teams have to pick their matchups. If they pick us for their top matchup, then they’ve got to worry about Dutchy’s line. It’s vice versa.”
“It’s very fortunate for us that we have such a deep team.”
Not one to take individual credit in such a team oriented game, MacKinnon will continue to help his team fight for a playoff berth—the first since the 2009-10 campaign—with the same humility and happy-go-lucky attitude that he brought to start the year while still turning heads almost every night. Though he might not know it, MacKinnon will now also be chasing down his own center, as Stastny owns the longest point-streak by a rookie (20 games), from the 2006-07 season.
The way this kid is playing, he may never spend a night off of the scoreboard again.
Colorado’s win on Tuesday put the Avalanche one point out of second place in the Central Division and just three points behind the surging St. Louis Blues with as tough a remaining schedule as it gets.
Everyone, including MacKinnon, will have to continue performing at peak levels to keep up such an outstanding year entering the postseason. There is no reason to expect otherwise at this point, as the Avs continue to surprise everyone around the NHL.
Next up on the schedule is a road game against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. That’s after tomorrow’s 1 p.m. MST deadline for making trades.