Nathan MacKinnon: Sophomore Slump or Sophomore Superstar?

I’ll bet you that the Colorado Avalanche are happy they went with Nathan MacKinnon with the 1st overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft.  Many people, including yours truly, thought that the Avs were going to take local kid and projected franchise defenseman Seth Jones with the 1st pick.  Soon after the Avs had won the draft lottery, they made it known to the hockey world that they were going to most likely draft MacKinnon first overall.  At the time I thought it was a ploy by the front office to try and trade down to the second or third pick and take Jones at that point, but add some assets to their franchise.  How wrong I was, and looking back at it, I am glad I was wrong.  Being a subscriber to NHL GameCenter Live, I watched a number of Colorado games this past season and I have to be honest, I fell in love with watching MacKinnon.  His speed is UNREAL!  I remember catching the Avs’ game against the Islanders in Colorado, and watching MacKinnon blow past the Islanders defense to go in on a breakaway and put a filthy move on the goaltender.  In case you missed it, here is the evidence:

WOW is the only word that comes to mind!!!!!!!

Fast forward to the first round of the playoffs and the playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.  Duchene, the 1st line center for the Avs, was injured and he would not return until toward the end of the seven game series.  The injury really gave MacKinnon his shot to showcase what we are in for for the remainder of MacKinnon’s career.  MacKinnon simply DOMINATED the Wild in games 1, 2, and 5.  Once again, if you missed it, here is the evidence; pay close attention to the 3rd goal of this highlight package:

I have no clue how Jared Spurgeon didn’t break his ankle on that goal by MacKinnon.  FILTHY!!!!!

In the end, the Wild won the series in 7 games, winning all 3 games at home and winning Game 7 in Colorado.  One important note about all 4 of Minnesota’s wins, they were able to keep MacKinnon off the scoresheet in all 4 games that they won.  MacKinnon, along with Stastny, was truly the engine that ran the Colorado offense in the series, amassing 10 points in 7 games played.

We now look towards the 2014-2015 NHL season and what MacKinnon will do as an encore.  Will he be struck by the sophomore slump, or will he build upon the fantastic season he had last year?  Let’s look at the factors that could contribute to MacKinnon slumping or soaring this upcoming season.

Sophomore Slump

With the forward depth that the Avs were able to deploy in their top six, MacKinnon was able to play with the likes of Stastny, O’Reilly, Landeskog, and Duchene.  He was mostly utilized as a winger even though he is a natural center.  Playing on the wing really helped his game develop at the NHL level.  It gave him the opportunity to play with centers Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O’Reilly.  To be able to play with the likes of those three centers on a nightly basis would help any winger in the league, but for MacKinnon, it helped him amass 63 points in the regular season as a rookie, the most points by a rookie since Jeff Skinner put up 63 in 2010-2011 and Patrick Kane and Nick Backstrom put up 72 and 69 respectively in 2007-2008.

The loss of Paul Stastny to the St. Louis Blues through free agency will be a concern.  That’s one less center for MacKinnon to play with if Patrick Roy decides to play MacKinnon on the wing.  If Roy decides to play MacKinnon as the 2nd line center, it would force MacKinnon to have to be more defensively reliable and could impact his offensive output.  Being a centerman in the NHL is such a difficult task and it is unclear as to whether MacKinnon is ready for that responsibility.  The limited opportunities that MacKinnon had at center last year, he wasn’t overly successful.  For example, his faceoff % was well under 50% and his offensive output wasn’t as productive as it was when he played on the wing.  Many people expect the Avalanche to not have as successful of a season this coming season as they had last season.  People point to the defense and goaltending of the team as reasons why they will not fare as good as they did last year.  Both the defense and the goaltending played well above their heads last year and may come down to earth this season and if that is the case, the centermen are going to play a much more important role for the team, defensively that is.  I really think that playing MacKinnon on the wing is the smartest move for Patrick Roy this coming season.  Playing him at center will contribute to MacKinnon being struck by the sophomore slump.

Building Upon Last Year’s Success

Even though the Avs lost Paul Stastny to free agency, they still have Duchene and O’Reilly as centermen that could pivot the top two lines.  If Roy does go with Duchene and O’Reilly as the 1st and 2nd line centers then he has MacKinnon, Landeskog, Iginla and Tanguay to play the wings.  Not a bad top six if you ask me!

The tools are all there for MacKinnon to build upon his successful rookie campaign.  He’s got capable goalscorers and setup men to help him surpass his offensive output from last year.  Furthermore, if we take a look at his dominance during the playoffs, he had done that without Duchene in the lineup, which you could make the argument that, it is not that much different than Stastny not being in an Avs uniform this year.

The addition of Brad Stuart will help the defense of the team.  He is 34 years old, so not quite in his prime anymore, but he’s only being used as temporary help, until a player like Duncan Siemens is ready for the NHL as the role of  a shutdown defenseman.  Siemens is probably a year or two away from the NHL.  He’ll spend next year in the AHL, that is unless he completely wows the Avs during training camp.  Thus, with the addition of Stuart to the defense, the centermen for the team will have a little more stability on defense and thus help mitigate the defense “coming down to earth” this season.  The centermen, and forwards for that matter, will be allowed to concentrate on scoring goals more than concentrating on coming back to help the defense, which will help MacKinnon surpass this 63 points from last season and possibly be a 30 goal scorer.

What Do The Experts Predict?

Let’s take a look at what the experts, from 4 different magazines, think and predict what MacKinnon will achieve this year.

1.The Hockey Magazine: 2014-2015 Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide

“He can be a top-10 scorer this year and will soon be battling for the scoring championship.”

Projection – 80 GP, 32 G, 48 A, 80 PTS

 

2.Hockey The Magazine: 2014-2015 Poolers’ Guide

“With Stastny gone, he becomes the Avalanche’s second centre, behind Duchene.  He’ll be assuming more responsibilities.”

Projection – 72 PTS

 

3.The Sports Forecaster

“A team that badly needed a young defenseman like Seth Jones passed on the latter to take MacKinnon first overall in 2013.  Nobody within the Colorado organization regrets the decision after the wunderkid’s first campaign.  The Calder Trophy winner was good in the season but lifted his game to an elite level in the playoffs.”

Projection – 80 GP, 32 G, 41 A, 73 PTS

 

4.Sportsnet NHL Pool Guide 2014-2015

“Duchene’s season was legit, but MacKinnon’s was aided by luck.  That said, at 19, he’s still bound to improve in year two.”

Projection – 82 GP, 31 G, 40 A, 71 PTS

 

Well there you have it, the experts have spoken.  The projections range from a low of 71 points to a high of 80 points and if you average out the projections from all four magazines you get 74 points.  Of the four, I lean towards The Sports Forecaster’s projection.  As much as I would love to see The Hockey Magazine’s projection to come true (I have MacKinnon in one of my Keeper Leagues, and traded Duchene for him before the 2013-2014 season began) I really cannot see MacKinnon finishing with 80 points or more.

What do you think?  Will MacKinnon be struck by the sophomore slump?  Will he build upon his rookie campaign?  What are his numbers going to look like?

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