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Frei: MacKinnon shouldn’t be so modest

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Nathan MacKinnon

Nathan MacKinnon said the best player in the NHL was on the ice at Ball Arena Monday night.

No, it wasn’t an outburst of egoism.

He meant the Oilers’ Connor McDavid.

Sometimes, MacKinnon is just too modest.

I had asked the Avalanche center about whether he still gets a charge out of playing against his fellow No. 1 overall NHL draft choice.

“Any time you play the best players in the world…” MacKinnon began, then paused to clarify. “He is the best player in the league in my opinion. Guy wins the scoring title every year. He’s amazing. It’s always fun to play against Sid [Crosby], [Auston] Matthews, even [Leon] Draisaitl. Any time you get to play against those guys, it’s a lot of fun.”

This was shortly after MacKinnon’s goal at 52 seconds of three-on-three overtime — with McDavid on the ice for the Oilers — gave the Avalanche a 3-2 victory, extending their latest winning streak to four.

MacKinnon’s 22nd goal of the season came off a slick setup pass from Cale Makar, who collected his eye-popping 49th assist.

“It’s OT,” MacKinnon said. “I kind of got tangled up with McDavid and the puck was loose. Two guys go for it for them and Cale [Makar] makes an unreal play. . . I managed to score.”

The kicker to the McDavid-MacKinnon matchup is that McDavid has been among the “generational talents” who went No.1 overall in the draft and were cited as what MacKinnon needed to aspire to be in the early up-and-down years of his career after the Avalanche claimed him at the top of the 2013 draft.

I wouldn’t have blamed him for resenting McDavid, or at least bristling at the comparisons after McDavid went first overall in 2015. Be more like McDavid. McDavid this, McDavid that. I wasn’t the only one who kept bringing it up about MacKinnon. But he not only handled the challenges from all corners of the hockey world; he used them.

He became that generational talent, too. He has been a finalist for the Hart Trophy three of the past four years, and the most notable miscarriage of justice was when the Devils’ Taylor Hall was the choice in 2018. MacKinnon should have won it that year. The other winners were Nikita Kucherov in 2019, Draisaitl in 2020 and McDavid in 2021.

This season, that translates into 22 goals and 46 assists in 48 games for MacKinnon. Since he returned after suffering a broken nose when taking a hit from (oh, the irony) Taylor Hall, now with Boston,  on February 21, MacKinnon has10 goals and 10 assists in 12 games. That includes his goal and assist against the Oilers Monday night.

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I also asked him whether the game had been exciting for him, too. For the sellout crowd, it was one of the more entertaining nights of the Avalanche season.

“A little bit too exciting,” MacKinnon said. “Obviously fun for people to watch, but we have to be a little tighter in the second. Great first and third. Everything was self-induced in the second, which is good, but we don’t want to do that too much.”

The NHL trading deadline passed six and a half hours before the opening faceoff, and MacKinnon was enthusiastic about the deals Joe Sakic made both last week and then on Monday.

“I thought it was great,” MacKinnon said. “Obviously, the players we traded, the prospects, we’re so deep right now, it’s going to tough for those guys to play for three, four years, and we’ll all probably be gone in three, four years. We need to win now and that’s the message Joe is sending to all of us, the coaching staff. Not that our plan was any different, but everyone’s all in and we’re excited to get [Artturi] Lehkonen, Mans [Josh Manson], Sturmie [Nico Sturm] and Coglie [Andrew Cogliano]. Amazing additions, everything we need. So we’re really excited.”

MacKinnon was decisively reprising Avalanche themes during the franchise’s glory years. Stanley Cup or Bust. Win or fail. Go for it. And remember, this the same MacKinnon who after the Avalanche’s second round elimination last season said: “I’m going into my ninth year and I haven’t won —.”

The deadline has passed.

The Avalanche lineup has been tweaked.

We’ll see how much it has been improved.

“It’ll be good to have some team meetings and get to know the new guys and integrate them quickly.” MacKinnon, a noted hoops fan, said. “You know it’s a late trade deadline. Basketball was like a month ago. We have like 18 games left to get together quickly and get ready for the playoffs.”

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here

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JD16

Nice write up, Terry. Though I’d say the most egregious Hart snub was when Draisaitl won it. He essentially won for the ten games McDavid missed. But hey, whose counting 😉

Aaron Rud

Those 2 guys were quite pedestrian last night.

gimmepuck

Great read.
Thx for the morning pick me up 👍.

dk

Good read. I think you made a mistake, Terry. MacKinnon has played 48 games this year, much better than the “ordinary” point per game pace (22G 46A 68 games) at which you have him.

By the way, I’d rather my superstars too modest than dripping with hubris.

Brendan Rieder

TF does he mean “we will all be gone in 3-4 years”…. No you better not be

Aaron Rud

Brendan, I just saw your comment now. I wrote the same thing. I hope that’s just hyperbole.

Aaron Rud

Anyone catch what he said-“We’ll probably all be gone in 3-4 years…..” Hhmmm.

gimmepuck

Well, realistically, in four years they will have fallen pretty far from their top level abilities (except for Makar) as that peaks at about 26/27 yo in the NHL. Mac is at his peak now. Landy will be 34+, Toews has 2 years and is a cap casualty after that. Mikko at 30…still very good no doubt. Goaltending completely new. D aside from Makar, (and maybe Byram, TBD) totally new. In 3-4 years, the Avs will likely look a lot like the Pens do now…still good, still pretty dangerous – but not dominating or the favorites to win it all.… Read more »

Jared Moss

He’s taking about the zombie apocalypse guys no worries, no one will be left behind

Charlie Anderson

Yes the self-fulfilling biblical apocalype we’ve all been waiting for for a while now, I’m sure that’s what he meant.

idavsfan

Hi Terry, Any word as to why MacKinnon doesn’t come out and acknowledge the fans if he’s not the #1 star of the game? Seems a bit disingenuous for the players to say they love the fan support, only to blow them off if they’re the #2 star.

Aaron Rud

He strikes me as being somewhat arrogant.

Adam Manter

This is the same guy that is on a very team friendly deal at $6.3M. This is the guy you are calling arrogant?! McDavid average salary is double MacKinnon (12.5M). Go peddle you nonsense somewhere else!

idavsfan

LOL – that will change at the end of next season – MacK signed his deal before he really exploded as a player and this has nothing to do with salary.

Adam Manter

Have you ever heard of anyone outperforming their contract and demanding a new deal before the contract is up?! Happens all the time in every sport. MacK couldn’t have done that at any time but he didn’t. I hope he signs a big deal he deserves it!

Charlie Anderson

MacKinnon’s arrogance is perfect. It’s what makes him brilliant, and as this article shows, it’s not overdone. Tasteful, powerful and impactful levels of arrogance from our boy. McDavid’s personality is snooze city

Adrian Dater

McDavid – great player. Most boring person on planet, media-wise anyway

Charlie Anderson

omg no, just stop

Bob Neal

I think the twirl was in the locker room. It is an interesting question idavsfan asks. MacKinnon is such a great talent and seems to be quite the enigma also. Bottom line is who cares as long as he continues to entertain us in the manner he has over the past years. So much fun to watch him play.

Adam Manter

With all due respect to MacKinnon and McDavid I have to disagree. I know I am biased but for me the best player in the world is MacKinnon!

Charlie Anderson

Yeah when was the last time anyone saw McDavid rag-doll a Coyote huh? Or how about throw a helmet at….a Coyote? Mackinnon is the BEST

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