Nathan MacKinnon enjoyed his greatest season to date as an NHL player this past year.
What is there to even say about this guy that you don’t already know? MacKinnon came into the season as a bit of a disappointment to that point in his career. His rookie season remained his career-high across the board and after last season’s struggles in leading the league’s worst offenses (and one of the worst offenses since the ’05 lockout), questions about whether or not he’d ever fulfill his incredible potential began to get louder.
Safe to say he answered that question pretty emphatically this year. Following a slow start where he scored just five points in the team’s first 10 games, MacKinnon ripped off a cool 92 points in the next 64 games he would play in. If he held up that pace for an entire 82-game season, MacKinnon would have produced 117 points. He missed eight games with a shoulder injury but returned and continued rolling right along. Even the game he got injured in when he played less than 12 minutes saw him produce a point along the way.
There’s no other way to describe MacKinnon’s season other than flat-out dominant. He was the best player on the ice the vast majority of nights and he tore apart opposing team’s game plans that were designed entirely around slowing him down. He tied for 9th in goals, 11th in assists, was fifth in points, tied for third in even-strength points, and tied for 12th in power-play points. He was simply incredible.
MacKinnon centered one of the league’s top lines alongside Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Once the trio was put together in the 11th game against the Chicago Blackhawks, they never looked back. At even strength, the line produced 56 goals versus giving up just 33, especially impressive given their nightly matchup against the opposing team’s top line. They were a devastating combination and MacKinnon’s excellence spear-headed all of it.
I wrote Anton Lindholm’s grade and there were very few options to go with. Trying to pick MacKinnon’s biggest moment is…a little bit tougher. There was his individual brilliance and patience that led to the game-tying goal in Game Five against Nashville in the postseason. Or a five-point night against the hated Minnesota Wild. How about his first five-point night of the season in a home victory over eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington? And who could forget his performance in Game 82 against the St. Louis Blues and his goal that really drove the dagger into the Blues as the Avs secured the final playoff spot on the last day of the season? How do you pick just one? For me, I’ll go with his two-goal game against Nashville in Game Three as the Avs beat the Preds to make it a 2-1 series and really cement what a competitive series it would ultimately become. There is no wrong answer here, however, so enjoy some highlights of an outstanding season.
Winning the Hart Trophy for league MVP, probably. The NHL Awards are on June 20 in Las Vegas and MacKinnon is one of the two favorites to win the award. Only Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils is likely to keep him from winning it. MacKinnon deserves to win it.
MacKinnon lived up to all of the hype and potential that came with his being selected first overall in 2013. His speed, power, and incredibly quick hands drove him to a 97-point season as he put a very young Avalanche team on his back and brought them from the NHL’s laughingstock a year prior to the spotlight of relevance. If he continues playing and producing as he did this season, the Avalanche are going to be very competitive for a long, long time.