As Canada marches into the quarterfinal of the World Championship in Europe, I can’t help but notice the names atop the scoring charts. Apart from recent Vegas signee Vadim Shipachyov, the top-five is comprised of NHL stars: Artemi Panarin, Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau and Nikita Kucherov. Three of those players have been playoff regulars in their careers, while MacKinnon is the odd man out.
Playing for the Colorado Avalanche since the franchise took him first overall in 2013, MacKinnon has seen the post-season once – his first year, when the Avs defied analytics until reality caught up in the first round of the playoffs.
Since then, the Avs have sunk like a stone and just turned in the worst NHL season of any franchise in a long time.
MacKinnon is the reigning scoring champ in Colorado and just entering the prime years of his career. He has been excellent for Canada at the World Championship and those efforts must be seen in Colorado as a signal: get this kid some help.
Because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen. At the World Cup of Hockey, MacKinnon was an absolute beast for Team North America, throwing his weight around, hovering near the top of the team’s offensive leaderboard and scoring one of the most exciting goals in recent history when he outwaited Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist in overtime.
That North America team played fast, puck possession hockey. Canada’s international teams, like the one MacKinnon is playing with now at the worlds, play fast, puck possession hockey. When MacKinnon plays on these teams, he has a lot of success. When MacKinnon plays with talented linemates – he’s got Mark Scheifele and Jeff Skinner with him right now – he has a lot of success.
So I guess I’m waving a flag for Nate Dogg while he’s busy chasing gold in Germany. Because we know the Avs are in a trough right now and must make improvements in the off-season. The trade rumors involving Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog have been so consistent that it feels like those players have already left Denver for good, but something drastic needs to happen.
By the end of 2016-17, MacKinnon was playing on a line with Mikko Rantanen and Sven Andrighetto. That’s not bad, considering that Rantanen in particular has a very bright future ahead of him and shares similar positive traits with MacKinnon (size, scoring, power). But let’s look at the Avalanche as a whole.
The defense really needs work and this is related to MacKinnon because someone needs to get him the puck; otherwise his speed and power are useless. Colorado has been one of the worst possession teams in the NHL for years now and while Patrick Roy’s coaching style may have been a factor, it’s fair to say that a lack of solid puckmovers hindered Jared Bednar’s first edition this season.
So really, getting more blueliners who can carry the puck and distribute it should be the No. 1 priority (need I point out how good Nashville has been in the post-season?). If Duchene and/or Landeskog get traded, blueliners should be the primary return. Subtract those two very good players up front and you have a hole, but at least you still have MacKinnon, Rantanen and young Tyson Jost to build off. Keep one and maybe you get the best of both worlds.
If his play away from the Avs is any indicator, MacKinnon has a gear that is being underutilized in Colorado and he can only do so much with his own talent. But Colorado has a golden opportunity to correct that this summer and it will be interesting to see what GM Joe Sakic comes up with.
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