Speed. It might be the one attribute of Nathan MacKinnon's game that will allow him to have early success in his NHL career.
"People are going to be very surprised by his speed, especially his starts, the 1-2-3, he's really fast," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy of the No. 1 overall selection in this year's draft. "He's one of the fastest guys I've seen. He's has that NHL skating ability, no doubt in my mind."
For Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic, they expect MacKinnon to be on the organization's 23-man roster when the 2013-14 regular season begins in October, just about a month after the 6-foot, 182-pound forward's 18th birthday.
"We believe he is ready," Sakic said. "He'll step in and he will already be one of the fastest skaters in the game."
After an impressive postseason that saw him score 33 points (11 goals and 22 assists) in 17 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff games and another 13 points (seven goals and six assists) in only four games of the Memorial Cup where he was named tournament MVP, MacKinnon became only the third 17-year-old player to be taken first overall at the NHL Draft in the last 26 years, joining fellow Halifax native Sidney Crosby in 2005 and Joe Thornton in 1997.
This season, he will likely join Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly as current Colorado players who were also 18-year-old rookies when they broke into the league.
The expectation of playing from day one won't be anything new for MacKinnon.
"That's the way I envisioned things all my life, is to play as an 18-year old," MacKinnon said. "It's pretty cool to hear that they (Roy and Sakic) have confidence in me and they think that I can make the jump [to the NHL]. It's a big role as an 18-year old. I have a lot to learn, I know that, but at the same time I want to help out and have a strong role and contribute as much as I can."
While MacKinnon may be NHL ready, Roy said that he is going to give him enough time to adjust to the speed and physicality at the NHL level.
"I know he is ready, I've seen him play enough," said Roy, who had to coach against MacKinnon for two years in the QMJHL while he was the head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts. "But we'll have to be patient at the start, give him a chance to adapt – I'm not going to compare junior to the NHL – just give him the time to feel good."
I have a lot to learn, I know that, but at the same time I want to help out and have a strong role and contribute as much as I can." - Nathan MacKinnon
The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native scored 75 points (32 goals and 43 assists) in only 44 regular season games for Halifax in 2012-13, and MacKinnon's offensive skills will only add to an already talented forward group that includes Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, PA Parenteau, Paul Stastny and recently acquired Alex Tanguay.
With all the firepower and veteran leadership up front, MacKinnon said he thinks it won't be long before the team is in contention once again.
"I don't think it is a long ways to go," he said. "Obviously, I'm biased towards it but looking at the talent that this team has and the promise that this team has. You forget but some of these guys have playoff experience; Duchene played in the playoffs, O'Reilly did as well. These guys have been around and we have some veterans now as well. I think it is a very well-balanced team and I don't think it will take too long to turn this thing around."