Do you think they understand how to develop young hockey players in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia?
For the second time in eight years, that small town produced the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft. This time, the Colorado Avalanche took advantage of that spot to select Nathan MacKinnon. In 2005, the Pittsburgh Penguins took Cole Harbour native Sidney Crosby.
If the selection of MacKinnon works out for the Avalanche half as well as the Crosby selection has worked for the Penguins, Colorado executive director of hockey operations Joe Sakic will be quite pleased.
The similarities don't stop with the hometown. MacKinnon went to Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) High School, which arguably boasts the best high school hockey program in the United States.
Shattuck product MacKinnon follows in the footsteps of Crosby...played for Tom Ward who is a tremendous coach at SSM...needs an edge.
— ESPN NHL Draft Blog (@NHLDraftBlog) June 30, 2013
MacKinnon is coming off a huge season with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League that allowed him to earn the No. 1 draft pick status. He scored 32 goals and 43 assists this year and finished with an amazing plus-40 rating. He also scored 13 points in four games in the Memorial Cup, and that showing probably allowed him to become the No. 1 selection overall.
While Crosby was a no-doubt top pick when he was selected in 2005, MacKinnon did not have the same kind of universal acclimation. That's not a slight against MacKinnon, since Crosby is probably the best all-around player in the NHL and one of the game's all-time greats.
MacKinnon has many special qualities, and some of them are reminiscent of Crosby. MacKinnon has overwhelming first-step quickness, and that allows him to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
TSN analyst Craig Button says that the difference between MacKinnon and the other top prospects in the draft is that he has the skilled hands to take advantage of the opportunities that his speed brings him.
The Avalanche have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. MacKinnon should have a great chance to make the team as the No. 1 overall draft pick, but he will not be asked to work miracles.
Colorado has several talented young players up front in Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. If MacKinnon works out as a rookie, he could be the player who helps put them in the playoffs once again.
MacKinnon has had the benefit of working out with Crosby during recent summers. The two have a close relationship.
"Through the year we don’t talk a lot,” MacKinnon told Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star. “He texted me at the Memorial Cup. In the summer I see him more. I’m sure he’s having a little down time right now. When he starts training, I know it’s going to be intense. The guy doesn’t seem to get tired.”
As the years go by, the comparisons with Crosby will increase if MacKinnon proves himself to be a dominant NHL player. If he is not, their shared history of having come from the same hometown and high school will merely become a triviality.
But the two will always have a strong relationship. MacKinnon poked fun of that status after the Avs made him the No. 1 pick.
MacKinnon on Sidney Crosby, his favorite player & fellow Nova Scotian: "I don't know if I should dislike him now. I don't know."
— Sean Leahy (@Sean_Leahy) June 30, 2013
While that's not going to happen, MacKinnon's days of going to Crosby for advice are nearing an end. Crosby has made his name and reputation as one of the top players in the world. MacKinnon has followed Crosby's path to the NHL, but now, he must go off on his own and establish himself as one of the best players as well.