Nathan MacKinnon's Legend Growing After OT Winner Adds to Incredible 1st Round

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Nathan MacKinnon's Legend Growing After OT Winner Adds to Incredible 1st Round
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He is not old enough to drink legally in the state of Colorado, nor to gamble in a casino. Pot is legal in Colorado, but Nathan MacKinnon is three years away from being able to do that too. Don’t expect the Avalanche rookie to ever partake in the wacky weed, though.

MacKinnon, by all accounts, is as likely to engage in risky off-ice behavior as Opie Taylor. MacKinnon’s life is hockey, and he’s pretty good at it.

I’ve covered the Avalanche for all 19 years of their existence in Denver. I literally have shirts older than Nathan MacKinnon (he's 18). Only one other player has made me almost—almost, mind you; gotta be professional in the press box—want to jump out of my seat and yell “Did you just see that?”

A lot of Avs fans, and hockey fans in general, may have wanted to do that in recent days. Through the first five games of the Avalanche’s first-round series with the Minnesota Wild, MacKinnon has two goals and 10 points. He scored the overtime winner in Saturday's Game 5 at the Pepsi Center, which put Colorado up three games to two.

That other player, by the way, was Peter Forsberg. While I covered another brilliant player all those years ago, Joe Sakic, it was more like getting excited at an IBM earnings sheet with him. He was button-down excellent, while Forsberg was Jim Morrison on acid, just unpredictably out of this world with whatever he might choose to do next on skates with a puck on his stick.

Mark Humphrey

MacKinnon reminds me of Forsberg, but not quite in their style of game. Forsberg held on to the puck like a mother with her cub. He never wanted to get rid of it, and anybody who dared try to take it away got a fearsome response from the passive-aggressive Swede.

As a result, Forsberg got injured a lot toward the end of his career. All that defiant protection of the puck made his body a battering ram for Dead Puck Era defensemen, who got away with more liberty than a sailor on leave.

MacKinnon is more a give-and-go guy. He literally has kind of a Road Runner start to his skating. He kind of spins his wheels for a revolution or two, then boom...he's gone.

It’s a bit soon for this comparison (Forsberg was shocking enough), but MacKinnon has some of that Gretzky-esque ability to create room for himself by either curling back against the traffic he’s caused—the rest go skidding, but MacKinnon holds up, with all that new room created—or he can speed ahead, bring everybody toward him, then slip a little side or back pass to an open teammates.

That’s how he created a go-ahead goal against the Wild in the second period of Game 5, blazing a path up the middle of the Wild zone before slipping the pill back to Andre Benoit, who shot the puck on net. Nick Holden tipped it in from there.

On the OT winner, MacKinnon was more of the sniper than Forsberg ever was. The puck was loose just for a second, so MacKinnon ripped a shot past Marco Scandella, which then slid past the left glove of Darcy Kuemper in the mesh of the far post.

MacKinnon’s helmet was ripped off by his jubilant teammates, exposing his bushy tufts of hair. Just another night at the office for a player barely able to legally work in this state.

“When we draft him, we knew what kind of player we were getting,” Avs coach Patrick Roy said.

It was Roy who most pressed for his team to take MacKinnon at the draft in New Jersey last summer. He’d faced him several times as a coach in the QMJHL and knew the kind of talent he had.

“He’s explosive, but he also knows how to play the game,” Roy said of MacKinnon.

According to Elias Sports: "At 18 years, 237 days, MacKinnon is the second-youngest player in Stanley Cup playoff history to score an overtime goal…Don Gallinger was 17 years, 339 days when he scored an OT winner for Boston on March 21, 1943 against Montreal.”

MacKinnon was 17 at the start of the season, which…17? Seventeen? It is guilt-inducing young. Don’t we all feel as if any 17-year-old should be in some easy, swan-song stay at his home before heading off to college and the real future of his life to be discovered? Do we really feel good about him having to go to work for a living every day at 18, to make money for a major corporate entity?

OK, I’ll shut up. MacKinnon is livin’ the dream we all wish we were. Despite living in Jean-Sebastien Giguere's basement all season, he figures to get his own place next year and, in a year or two, he should sign a major, rich, new contract with the Avs.

“This first season was pretty much everything I could have hoped for,” MacKinnon said. “It’s a great organization, a great city. We had a real good season, but we’re in the playoffs now, and we don’t want to have it stop.”

 

 Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995 for The Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @Adater.

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