Best yet to come for MacKinnon
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I have to think the best is yet to come for Nathan MacKinnon, which is saying a lot.
He’s reached the 90-point mark three years in a row and came within seven points of hitting the century milestone this season despite playing in 69 games. He missed what turned out to be the season finale March 11 to a lower-body injury and the remaining 12 games were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 495 points in 525 regular-season games in seven seasons, MacKinnon has moved into seventh place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list, and that includes the Quebec Nordiques. He’s seventh in goals (190) and ninth in assists (305).
MacKinnon is tied with Anton Stastny for 11th place with 20 playoff goals despite playing 26 fewer games (66-40), is ninth with 33 assists and 10th in points with 53.
The Avalanche were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs 11 days ago, yet with 25 points MacKinnon was tied for the scoring lead on Monday with Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
“We’ve talked a lot about Mack reaching another level in his play, in a lot of different ways,” coach Jared Bednar said. “He was always good, borderline great, all the time. But I think in the playoffs he was outstanding.”
MacKinnon, 25, won the Lady Byng Award last Friday for playing at a high level while exhibiting sportsmanship (12 penalty minutes), joining previous Avalanche winners Joe Sakic (2001) and Ryan O’Reilly (2014).
MacKinnon received 984 points in voting by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, finishing ahead of Toronto’s Auston Matthews (616 points) and St. Louis’ O'Reilly (561).
He’s a finalist for the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (outstanding player) with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin. The winners will be announced during the Stanley Cup Final at a date to be determined.
MacKinnon was a finalist for both awards in 2017-18.
“Obviously, I am hopeful,” MacKinnon said. “It’d be really cool to win that, but I am not counting on anything. I think a couple years ago, it meant more to me than than it does now. Whether you win it or not, your career goes on, your life goes on.
“Just trying to get better and continue to strive to get better every day and become a better player, a better person and things like that. Obviously, I’m competitive. I want to win everything I’m up for. But at the end of the day, I just want to win the Stanley Cup.”
Did MacKinnon’s playoff performance this year move him to the top of the list as the best player in the world?
“It’s nice to be recognized, but at the end of the day I cannot control what people say about me, good or bad,” he said. “It’s nice when it’s good, but I cannot control that. I think that is key, and as players, you focus on your game and focusing on what makes you successful on the ice.
“That stuff is cool, but I wish I was playing right now. I don’t really care about -- obviously, I want to be the best I can be -- but in terms of what I am ranked in the league or anything like that, it’s not up to me. I just wish I was still playing hockey, competing with my teammates and chasing the Cup.
“It sucks that way, but I am trying to continue to get better. I think that is the mindset you need to have. If you continue to get better, you probably won’t get any worse. That’s kind of where I am at.”
One of MacKinnon’s wishes might come true: he’s hopeful the Rick Bowness-coached Dallas Stars will go on to win the Cup. They took a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights into Game 5 on Monday.
Yes, even though the Stars ended the Avalanche’s playoff run with a 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
“Losing sucks, but losing to such a great person in Rick makes it a little bit easier, I guess,” MacKinnon said. “He’s got the most coached games in NHL history, and we live on the same lake back home (in Nova Scotia). I’ve played golf with him a few times over the years, and I know him fairly well. He’s a class act, and I let him know everyone is rooting for him and everyone is wishing him the best, myself included.”