So, um, the rookie can play a little.
Early in the first period of his first-ever game at the Bell Centre, Colorado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, looped around his own end, dangled through some traffic – and abruptly pulled up to avoid being plastered into the boards by a freight train named P.K. Subban.
Vision and hockey sense? Plenty on board, apparently.
Later in the frame, he took a pass in his skates, kicked it up to his stick blade and gained the offensive zone.
Moments after that, he came out from behind the net to try and stuff a puck past the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, gathered his own rebound, laid a few quick-time stickhandles on defenceman Francis Bouillon and then fired a cross-ice pass.
And moments after that, Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog’s pass along the boards appeared to carom off Montreal defenceman Subban, past a waving Paul Stastny and directly to an uncovered MacKinnon in the slot.
Forehand, backhand, in.
Hands? Moves? Killer instinct? Check, check, and check.
And to think this player is only 18.
The Cole Harbour, N.S., native now has 23 goals, leading all rookies, and has tallied 23 points in his past 21 games, a breakneck pace (the goal was his first since Feb. 8, which may just qualify as a slump for MacKinnon).
Yes, the Avs would lose 6-3 in coach Patrick Roy’s homecoming (he was cheered loudly during the U.S. anthem) on the strength of Thomas Vanek’s hat trick but it doesn’t change the fact the teenager drafted first over all this past summer was the centre of attention.
Asked post-game what he thought of MacKinnon's showing, Habs coach Michel Therrien was effusive.
“Impressed. Honestly, for an 18-year-old kid? I had the luxury in the past in my career to coach some great athletes at 18 or 19 years old, he’s right there. He’s a special player," he said.
No one should have to point out the siginficance of the parrallel, Therrien coached superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as teenagers.
In the second, MacKinnon had a couple more scoring chances in tight, and on a third-period power play he teed up André Benoit for a sure goal that Price somehow kept out.
“He’s been everything he was advertised as coming in. He’s had a great season for us, over the last 15 games and even a while back he’s been a lock for the Calder. It’s been an impressive year for him; he’s a big part of the team,” teammate and Olympic champ Matt Duchene said before the game.
Colorado has tried hard to ease its prize rookie recruit into the rigours of NHL life this season. One of the veterans brought in to help raise him right and help happens to be one of his favourite Pittsburgh Penguins players as a kid.
That would be winger Maxime Talbot, whom he saw on childhood idol Sidney Crosby’s day in Cole Harbour with the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2009.
“I think I was 12 or 13 at the time, so it was a pretty big deal for me. I was there, I was cheering, saw Max and Sid on a fire truck. I always tell Max I’m his number one fan,” MacKinnon joked after a team practice.
“Obviously I loved Sid as a kid and the Penguins in general. Max was one of my favourite players. Not any more, [now] that he’s my teammate. It’s nice that what I envisioned of him as a kid is what he is.”
And what was that exactly?
“Funny, loud, jokester, everybody likes him. Definitely a good teammate to have,” he said.
Talbot, a 30-year-old who is the epitome of the grizzled veteran, looks back on that day with something approaching wistfulness.
“It’s a little strange to find myself playing with that kid seven years later,” he laughed. “He’s an exceptional player.
Talbot showed he’s not too shabby, either, scoring a second-period goal.