What’s it like to be served on a platter by Nathan MacKinnon?
Avalanche linemate Mikko Rantanen can attribute 70% of his first 10 goals partially to MacKinnon’s quality service.
“It just takes skill to pass,” Rantanen said. “And what kind of pass it is: Is it a hard pass or is it soft, saucer — it’s always on the tape for me, 99% of the time. So it’s not easy. For sure one of the best passers there is.”
But coach Jared Bednar, when asked Thursday how fun it has been to watch MacKinnon pass, retorted with this: “I like when he shoots, too.”
Even when the shots aren’t going in.
MacKinnon is an elite, face-of-the-NHL scorer. But that’s not the statistic carrying his point total early this season as he pursues the elusive first 100-point season of his career.
Through 13 games? He’s at 23 points, putting him comfortably on pace for 145. But only four goals. His 19 assists match Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for the NHL lead.
“Brings it every single night,” teammate Cale Makar said. “So I have no issue with him not scoring many goals right now. He’s obviously making a lot of plays.”
MacKinnon’s 6% scoring rate — 4.6% at five-on-five — is still more of a dismissible outlier this early. According to Natural Stat Trick, he is averaging 3.07 individual scoring chances per game at five-on-five, ranking eighth in the NHL going into Sunday’s games. And 40% of those scoring chances are categorized as high danger. He’s getting anywhere he wants to be on the ice.
More is being asked of him than is typical at this time of year, too. The Avs (8-4-1) are down several forwards, most notably Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin. MacKinnon is averaging 21:59 in ice time per game, which is fourth among NHL centers, only behind Connor McDavid, Draisaitl and Aleksander Barkov.
“At this point I’m not concerned about it because we’ve been sitting around resting a lot,” Bednar said Friday. “Now, if we continue to run thin and it goes on for another three weeks or so, then I’ll be concerned about it. It’s the exact reason why we didn’t skate as a team (Friday). We had a planned practice. But I talk with Cale (Makar), (Devon) Toews, Mac.
“We need guys to be at the top of their game right now because of the injuries, and we may need to lean on our top guys more heavily. It’s the situation we’re in. Whether I like it or not has nothing to do with it. If that’s what we’ve got to do to win hockey games, then we’ll do it.”
That was fresh off Thursday’s game in which MacKinnon played more than 24 minutes. That might have been by design: Bednar deemed the 5-3 win against the Predators not a full team effort, but as for MacKinnon, “I watched him play those first handful of shifts and I’m like, ‘He’s going to be a difference-maker tonight,’ immediately.”
MacKinnon was on the ice for a more sustainable 19:46 on Saturday night. He produced another assist and ended his six-game goal drought.
Still only a 25-goal pace. But the superstar’s scoring total has oddly become his least revealing stat. Watch him skate or pass, and it’s clear why.
“I’ve played with lots of good players, but I think the way he approaches the game and the things he does to prepare for the following game is something I’ve never seen before,” said newcomer Dryden Hunt, who the Avalanche claimed off waivers in October. “I’ve played on a few different teams now, so I’ve never seen anything like it.”
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