ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Nathan MacKinnon squirmed a bit in front of his locker and tugged on the brim of his Colorado Avalanche ball cap, a little uncomfortable with any sort of comparison to the Great One.
The rookie forward almost apologized for breaking one of Wayne Gretzky’s records Thursday in Detroit. With his assist on Andre Benoit’s winning goal in overtime, MacKinnon now has a point in 13 straight games, the most by an 18-year-old NHL player. That surpassed Gretzky’s mark of 12 during the 1979-80 season.
“Pretty cool,” the soft-spoken teenager said.
He suddenly chuckled.
“It’s the only record (of Gretzky’s) that I’ll break,” said MacKinnon, whose team hosts Central Division-leading St. Louis on Saturday, with the Avs just three points behind. “It’s nice for sure.”
MacKinnon is a virtual lock for the rookie of the year award, especially considering he’s leading all rookies in points (51), goals (22), assists (29) and shots (184).
Even more, his quickness on the ice has helped move the Avalanche from the bottom of the standings a year ago to prime position to make their first post-season appearance since 2010.
Precisely what the Avalanche were picturing when they took him with the No. 1 pick over the summer.
“When he starts getting going, everybody is at the end of their seat, with just how exciting it is,” Avs first-year coach Patrick Roy said. “He’s been outstanding since the start of the season.”
Even if he is playing out of position right now. A centre by nature, MacKinnon has been switched to the wing on a line that includes captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s anchoring the middle, and Paul Stastny. With those two around him, sometimes MacKinnon gets overlooked.
Or that is at least Matt Duchene’s opinion anyway.
“They take the attention, and he’s waiting in the weeds,” Duchene said. “All of a sudden, boom, he’s gone, taking off and scoring a goal. I don’t think the other teams know what hit them.
“The streak he’s on is pretty impressive, pretty crazy. It’s special.”
No arguing that. Some of the biggest names in the game never had a streak quite like this as rookies. Alex Ovechkin of Washington had an 11-game streak his first year, while Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby each had 10.
Mention the streak, though, and MacKinnon just shrugs, even if it did top the mark of Gretzky (a person he’s never met, but would like to).
“At the end of the day, it’s just a points streak,” MacKinnon said. “Gretzky also won Cups. I’m sure he’s more proud of that than any points streak he has had. I’m happy the team is doing well.”
To assist him away from the rink, MacKinnon has taken up residence with the family of goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
MacKinnon’s big responsibility? Drive Giguere to practice—a chore he doesn’t mind because it gives him a chance to learn from Giguere.
“He’s taught me a ton. Giggy is just a calming influence for sure,” MacKinnon said. “I’m very lucky.”
Always so cool and composed on the ice—defying his years, even—there are times when MacKinnon can act like, well, your typical teenager. Just with some of the things he says.
“I get a kick out of him. All of us do,” Duchene said. “We’re always laughing at him in a funny way, in the sense that he’s still such a kid. He’s really adapting well, though, and fits in really well.
“That’s the biggest thing: Sometimes you draft a player and for a couple of years, he’s a square peg in a round hole. It takes a little while. With him, it’s been a perfect fit.”
MacKinnon didn’t envision an inaugural season as dynamic as this. Then again, he really didn’t envision anything because he kept his expectations tempered.
“I play game by game,” said MacKinnon, who helped the Halifax Mooseheads to their first-ever Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship last season. “I think I’ve been doing that. I’m still doing that. You don’t want to put a bunch of expectations on yourself.”
He’s certainly been entertaining.
“That’s what we were looking for when we drafted him,” Roy said. “We wanted someone that was not only a good hockey player, but one that would entertain our fans and give them a good reason to come and watch our games as well.”