TORONTO – Teenager Nathan MacKinnon is clearly enjoying his NHL rookie season ride.
The 18-year-old centre from Cole Harbour, N.S., was all smiles Tuesday as the media descended on his stall in the box-sized visitors’ dressing room at Air Canada Centre.
The Colorado rookie took the time to pull on an Avalanche cap and then enthused about life in the big league.
Asked what has surprised him about the NHL, he replied: “I guess how good they treat us here.
“It’s awesome. I’m loving every second of it. The travelling with the team, the way that they treat the players is pretty special. Obviously a little different than junior but I can’t complain about that either, it’s been great.”
MacKinnon’s parents flew out for the Toronto game.
The Avs are taking care not to pile on the pressure on the top overall pick in the 2013 draft. MacKinnon, who has three assists in two games, is playing on the third line with Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau.
“It’s the perfect fit for him,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “He doesn’t have to come here and be the saviour. He can come in here and be himself and play.”
“We’re extremely happy with our decision (to draft him),” added Roy. “He’s been outstanding in the first two games, despite the fact that he had an injury in training camp. We’re very excited and we love what we have seen so far of him.”
Away from the rink, MacKinnon lives with veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The 36-year-old goalie is married to a Halifax native and there is a family atmosphere with six-, four-, and one-year-old sons in the house.
“It’s still early,” centre Matt Duchene said of MacKinnon. “He’s still making the transition. It takes a while. It takes a couple of years, I think. But he’s had a good start. We’re all pulling for him, for sure.”
The Avs are 2-0-0 to begin a season for the first time since 2009-10 and only the third time since 1995.
It’s the first meeting between Colorado and Toronto (3-0-0) since October 2011.
Roy was the other centre of attention Tuesday.
The former star goalie and rookie NHL coach has already made headlines for an outburst behind the bench directed at his Anaheim counterpart Bruce Boudreau. He was fined US$10,000 for his glass-rattling action, prompted by a concern that a Ducks player had gone after MacKinnon.
“I felt like a kid again,” Duchene said, recalling the moment. “I felt like I was watching him fight (Mike) Vernon back in the day. It was pretty funny.”
Roy preferred to talk about the game ahead rather than his outburst, but his players spoke warmly about his passion.
“He wants the best for his players, no doubt about it,” said winger Alex Tanguay. “We saw what happened with Nathan in the first game, the intensity and things like that. He wants us to succeed.
“I think the quality he has above all is he wants to win. He was like that as a player and he’s certainly like that as a coach.”
Added MacKinnon: “He’s a players’ coach but the same time he’s all business when he’s at the rink.
“He’s a very good man as well, treats everybody very well. Everybody wants to play for him, I think that’s huge. … We all love him here and he’s doing a great job.”
Duchene described the players’ relationship with Roy as “more of a partnership.”
“It’s hard to describe. It’s just more of a winning feeling. We all feel like it’s within our control where before we didn’t really know what was going on sometimes, just in terms of stuff in the (dressing) room.”
Roy also used the word partner, saying he is there to help players achieve their goal.
“Our relationship right now is fantastic and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves. There’s a lot of energy on our team. We just want to bring it on the ice and see how far we can go.”
Some Avs players seemed taken back by the media horde that descended upon their locker-room.
“The circus is here,” said centre John Mitchell as he tried to figure out how to get past the reporters to his stall.