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Edit: Drafted 1st overall by the Colorado Avalanche.
Yesterday we looked at Jonathan Drouin as our #1 overall prospect for this June’s NHL Entry Draft. Today we move on to his Halifax Mooseheads teammate and linemate, Nathan MacKinnon, and name him our pick at #2. MacKinnon started the season as our #1 ranked prospect, and maintained that position through both our November and February rankings. It is only recently that he has been surpassed by Drouin, and this is of no fault of MacKinnon’s, but rather an acknowledgement of Drouin’s incredible work. Today, we still see MacKinnon as a future franchise defining centre, and while we have him at number 2, we would not be surprised if some team disagrees and takes him first overall. Once again, it is a three-way race for this spot (with Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones also in the conversation).
MacKinnon, a Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native has been followed by prospects watchers for a long time, and has often been compared to Cole Harbour’s most famous native son, Sidney Crosby. Such comparisons and expectations may be a bit too lofty for young MacKinnon, but he is a great prospect in his own right, and has helped lead the Mooseheads to the best record in the QMJHL and 7 straight wins (as of this writing) in the QMJHL playoffs. MacKinnon was also a member of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship squad this past December/January, and Canada’s Ivan Hlinka winning squad last summer, where his hat-trick in the Gold Medal Game led his team to victory.
Born Sep 1 1995 — Cole Harbour, NS
Height 5.11 — Weight 179 — Shoots Right
Nathan MacKinnon has all the skills you would want out of a hockey player, and this is why he’s been highly touted for so long. Despite his compact frame, he is extremely good on the cycle and protecting the puck as his is very hard to knock off of it due to his excellent balance. He has great stickhandling ability, and works hard in the dirty areas, and is willing to take the puck to the front of the net. Off the rush he is dangerous, with fantastic cuts, and the type of lateral agility that is very rare in a player and gives defenders nightmares. He can make that first step in either direction and be gone before the defender knows it. MacKinnon is a pure goal scorer, he knows how to finish plays in-tight, and has an excellent wrist shot and release from further away. With excellent hockey sense he is always in the right position, and his good vision and playmaking skills make him a threat to set up plays as well. This is one player who has the complete package.
MacKinnon is an outstanding skater. His top-end speed is very good, and his acceleration and change of pace ability, one of the best in the draft. He has great balance, edgework, and agility. His first step quickness is off the charts and this leads to him being first to reach a loose puck on many occasions.
Defensively, MacKinnon has worked to become a complete player. He isn’t afraid to work in his own end of the ice, in order to get the puck back for the Mooseheads, and start the offensive play. He understands positioning, and has shown a willingness to sacrifice his body and block shots for the good of the team. His skills in the faceoff circle are also improving.
As said above, the comparisons with Sidney Crosby are hard to ignore due to the fact that MacKinnon is another highly touted prospect from Cole Harbour. That said, they also play a very similar style of game and MacKinnon shows similar lower body strength, and the ability to play down low in the offensive zone, a familiar skill that has made Sid such a force in the NHL. MacKinnon is just not a generational talent on the level of Crosby, who has that little something extra that is very hard to define in a hockey player and comes around once every ten years or so. MacKinnon is more of Sid-lite. He won’t be challenging Crosby for the title of best hockey player in the world, but he could be a #1 franchise centre for an NHL team, capable of 90+ points per season in his prime if he reaches his max potential. Such a player is hard to find in the NHL, and thats what makes MacKinnon our choice as the number 2 prospect in the world.
For those who haven’t seen MacKinnon play (and note all our rankings and reports are based on full game viewings (usually video) of the prospect and not just “highlights”), here is a highlight package you may enjoy from user 91eddierazo on youtube:
At this point, a bit of an explanation on this ranking may be due. Now many have placed Seth Jones ahead of MacKinnon on their rankings, and while we take nothing away from Jones (who will be profiled tomorrow) and the two are extremely close, we gave the edge to MacKinnon for two reasons:
1) Age and Birthdate – As stated the two are extremely close right now. That said, Nathan MacKinnon as a September 1, 1995 birth date is one of the youngest players in this draft. Seth Jones as an October 3, 1994 birthdate, is one of the oldest. The nearly 11 full months of difference in age between the players is huge, and if we compare Nathan MacKinnon today, to what Seth Jones was 11 months ago, the gap in favour of MacKinnon is considerable.
2) Position Scarcity – It is extremely rare (with a few exceptions of course) to find a true franchise defining number 1 centre outside the very top of the NHL Draft. While there may include a few later first round picks in Claude Giroux, and Ryan Getzlaf, as well as a gem of a pick in Pavel Datsyuk, overall the list of guys who were not taken at the extreme top end of the draft is very short. On the other hand, finding a Norris caliber defenceman in later rounds – think Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, and a guy in this year’s conversation, PK Subban, in the 2nd, 3rd, or even later rounds is far more possible. This is true historically as well, as Bryan Trottier is the only NHL player to be drafted outside the first round* to win the Art Ross Trophy, while the Norris has been won (or contended for) by those listed above, as well as Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Rob Blake, Rod Langway and others. Franchise Centre has become the hardest position in the NHL to fill, even more so than defence. And as such, when things are so close like the MacKinnon/Jones debate, we give the edge to the centre in Nathan MacKinnon.
*Note: Wayne Gretzky has a closet full of Art Ross Trophies and was never drafted, however he was never eligible for the NHL Draft due to the WHA/NHL merger rules of the time. If Gretzky was available, he would have been the guaranteed 1st overall pick. Also Marty St. Louis’ (undrafted) 2003-04 Art Ross is another exception to the high draft rule. However as stated, these are far fewer, and far between than Norris Trophies won by non-first round defencemen.
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photo credit: MR_53 via photopin cc