They have been inexorably linked for years, two hockey wunderkinds from the same small Maritime hometown.
Now, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon share another thing in common: Both were No. 1 overall picks.
The Colorado Avalanche ended the suspense and made MacKinnon their first pick in Sunday’s NHL entry draft, elevating the Halifax Mooseheads’ star into an elite group with his idol Crosby, who hails from the same Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour.
Eight years Crosby’s junior, MacKinnon has nonetheless become close with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain, who was the first pick after the NHL’s last comeback from a lockout, in 2005.
And one of the first people MacKinnon heard from after going No. 1 was Crosby.
“He wished me luck,” he said.
There’s a Colorado tie-in to their story, too. As chance would have it, Crosby’s arrival in the NHL, when MacKinnon was just 10, caused him to switch allegiances from the Avs to the Penguins.
“I loved Sid, and he was my favourite player,” MacKinnon said. “I guess he’s still my favourite player. I don’t really know what to say now [that we’re in the same league].”
Colorado’s pick, made by new top execs Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, was one of the least surprising developments on the day, as both had mused publicly about their preference for taking him No. 1.
Part of that desire arose from the fact that Roy, as the former head coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts, had been on the wrong end of a lot of MacKinnon’s big games with the Mooseheads.
More than most, Roy realizes his game-breaking talent and fire-in-the-belly attitude, something the Hall of Fame goaltender shares in common with his top prospect.
“He’s a winner,” Roy said to a group of reporters on the draft floor.
“He’s a very good player – just too good to pass up. People in Denver are really going to enjoy watching him play.”
“I think we’re similar in that we’re both very competitive guys,” MacKinnon said. “And he definitely had a high work ethic, and I have the same, so in terms of that I think it’s going to work very well.”
Growing up being compared to Crosby wasn’t always easy for MacKinnon, who has been enduring that treatment in the national (and even international) media starting when he was as young as 12.
He should now be able to carve out his own niche, however, as he’s landed in another conference, in another time zone, and with a team that’s very much in a different place than the powerhouse Penguins and trying to find its way.
If there’s a comparison to be made in their games, it’s likely in their dedication and passion for the game, as MacKinnon gets every ounce out of his modest six-foot, 180-pound frame and has made a big impact time and again in key situations.
His explosiveness and abilities with the puck will more than make up for any size limitations, too, and it’s expected he can step right into Colorado’s lineup next season.
“He’s got the fire,” Sakic said. “He’s a humble kid, but he wanted to be No. 1. He’s a hard worker, and no matter what the moment is, he rises to the occasion.”
And, now that he has a team of his own, MacKinnon doesn’t mind the Crosby comparisons as much as he used to.
“Obviously, it’s some pretty good company,” he said. “I’m so proud to be where I’m from and where I grew up. Not many kids get this opportunity at the position I’m in.”