Nathan MacKinnon Dominating Like Few Ever Have as an 18-Year-Old

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Nathan MacKinnon Dominating Like Few Ever Have as an 18-Year-Old
Ron Chenoy/USA Today

As far as performances by 18-year-olds in the NHL go, Colorado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon is setting himself apart from some of the game's all-time greats.

With seven points in two games, he's already accomplished more in the postseason as an 18-year-old than Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Jarome Iginla and Mike Modano did as 18-year-olds. The 2014 postseason is less than a week old, and MacKinnon looks as if he will have every opportunity to produce the highest-scoring postseason for an 18-year-old in NHL history.

The all-time leader in that category is Jaromir Jagr, who had 13 points in 24 games as the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991.

If the Avalanche win their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, one they lead 2-0 after a 4-2 victory Saturday, that guarantees MacKinnon at least four more games in the second round against either the St. Louis Blues or the Chicago Blackhawks.

It's not only possible for MacKinnon to pass Jagr for the best postseason in NHL history as an 18-year-old, but there's a chance he could do it in half as many series.

A factor to consider is not all of the greatest 18-year-olds get to experience the postseason as rookies. Usually those players are top draft picks by moribund franchises that aren't anywhere close to reaching the playoffs, never mind lasting long enough in the postseason to rack up double-digit points.

Sidney Crosby, who had the second-most prolific season for an 18-year-old, with 102 points in 81 games in 2005-06, wasn't surrounded by the talent MacKinnon has in Colorado and didn't reach the postseason. Circumstances outside the player's control have just as big an influence on his performance, and MacKinnon is on a far superior team than Crosby had as a rookie.

That's why Crosby should still be considered untouchable in regards to regular season performances by 18-year-olds despite what NBC's Jeremy Roenick would have you believe.

That's categorically not true. MacKinnon's 63 points in 82 regular-season games are 39 fewer than what Crosby produced in 2005-06 and rank ninth on the all-time list.

Don't believe everything you hear on television.

That still shouldn't take away from what MacKinnon is pulling off this season, and it says a lot that he's even in the same conversation as Crosby, as ridiculous as that conversation may be.

MacKinnon's production is tied with Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes for the second-most points by an 18-year-old in a regular season since 1986-87 and will net him the Calder Trophy after the season. A few of the players behind MacKinnon on that list include Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik.

Only six players have scored more goals as an 18-year-old than MacKinnon, who had 24 this season. 

MacKinnon is blessed with every tool necessary to become one of the sport's elite players—speed, hands and intelligence—and his 6'0", 182-pound frame should only become sturdier as he ages.

The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native's wondrous abilities have been on display against the Wild.

His calmness and passing ability helped set up the Avalanche's late tying goal in regulation and winning score in overtime in Game 1.

In Game 2, he used his speed to break the ankles and perhaps the spirit of defenseman Jared Spurgeon to score, then once again showed off his passing ability on two other goals before assisting on an empty netter.

MacKinnon has partnered with Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny to form quite the dynamic trio in Colorado, and his ability is helping the Avalanche defy their dreadful possession numbers that are usually a sign of bad things to come.

The Avalanche finished 27th in score close Fenwick differential this season but finished second in the West behind the strength of goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who deserves some votes for the Hart Trophy, and the second-best shooting percentage (8.6) in the NHL. Their PDO of 102.2 was the third-highest and screams regression, but it never happened and is most certainly not happening through two postseason games.

Is MacKinnon good enough to be a Corsi and Fenwick buster?

Michael Martin/Getty Images

Four teams finished in the bottom-third of score close Fenwick differential this season yet made the playoffs—Montreal, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Colorado. While goaltending is almost always the answer to how teams like this defy the odds, that's not really the case with the Flyers, who had Steve Mason deliver a .909 save percentage over the final four months of the season.

Claude Giroux, however, was a possession beast who had 28 goals and 79 points over his final 67 games to push the Flyers into the playoffs.

Jonathan Bernier was a big reason the Maple Leafs were contenders before their three-week collapse to conclude the season, but Phil Kessel having a positive Corsi relative on one of the all-time worst possession teams along with 37 goals and 80 points certainly helped matters.

Maybe MacKinnon can be that player as he gets older, as his possession numbers in the regular season this year aren't all that overwhelming—he broke just about even in Corsi and Fenwick relative to his teammates—but he's off to a scintillating start this postseason.

MacKinnon's postseason numbers are off the charts in what is an extremely tiny sample size against a team that's a possession mess of its own, but coach Patrick Roy likes the teenager's two-way game (h/t ESPN):

You know what? I'm different than you guys. You guys are looking at points. I'm looking at how he performed on both sides of the ice. He's been playing well offensively, yes. He also played well defensively. That's what I want to see from him.

MacKinnon's Corsi and Fenwick are both plus-seven and he's yet to be on the ice for an even-strength goal-against this postseason, but it's his offensive abilities that are putting him in rarified air very quickly. He is one more great game away from moving into third all time in points among 18-year-olds, but when the scope is widened, his numbers are still impressive.

Hockey-Reference lacks the functionality that allows sorting for rookie playoff numbers in a single postseason, but MacKinnon ranks tied for 27th all time in points among 18- or 19-year-olds with only two games under his belt; since 1990, he is tied for eighth.

The first pick in the 2013 draft has lived up to the billing and is in the midst of one of the best seasons an 18-year-old has ever had. MacKinnon has the potential to make history this postseason, and after two games, he looks like he's on his way to doing just that.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

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