Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon
had quite the year as an 18-year-old.
He started training camp after having been drafted first overall at the 2013 NHL Draft, was on Colorado’s roster from opening night through to the end of a full 82-game schedule; broke a point-streak set by Wayne Gretzky when The Great One was just a wee 18-year-old; led all rookies in goals (24-tied), assists (39), points (63), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5-tied) and shots (241); and—deservingly—handily won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
MacKinnon also had two goals and eight helpers in just seven playoff contests against the Minnesota Wild and another goal and three assists in seven games while playing with Canada at the World Championship.
So what does a kid who took the hockey world by storm do after all of that? He starts training to do it all over again.
“It was good. I started it mid-June,” said MacKinnon, discussing his summer training regimen which included working with teammate Matt Duchene and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “After Worlds I took two months off from skating. Then it was the usual stuff. I was with Andy O’Brien this summer. It was a good summer.
“I got better. I feel good. I feel like I can do some stuff on the ice this season as well.”
Training camp hasn’t started yet, so just how MacKinnon is looking on the pond remains open to interpretation. That doesn’t change the fact that the now 19-year-old looks a little bigger and buffer as he prepares for the start of his second year with the Avalanche.
“I feel faster this season. A little quicker, I think. I feel better. I actually lost body fat and gained some muscle,” MacKinnon said. “It’s just all muscle so it’s good. I feel pretty strong out there. But at the end of the day, it’s about making plays out on the ice. It doesn’t matter how heavy you are or how in shape you are, I’ve still got to go out and make some plays.”
There has been considerable talk about MacKinnon’s new physique as well as how the second-year player is expected to perform in the coming months. Many are looking for him to be the catalyst in continuing Colorado’s success from last season.
MacKinnon, meanwhile, says he doesn’t have any personal goals for the 2014-15 campaign, and that’s just the way he likes it.
“No, it always sucks to hear a lot of hype going on and things like that but I guess we’ll see how I do. I don’t really want to put any limitations on myself, no expectations,” said MacKinnon. “I’m just going to go play every night, do the things that I need to do to be successful and hopefully that works.
“I think, when you put numbers behind everything, it’s always tough. I’m not really playing for points or what people want me to do. I don’t really care, to be honest. If someone said that I need to get 120 points, I wouldn’t really care. I’ve heard a bunch of stats thrown at me but whatever, it’s all good. The fans are very excited. For me, I just want to thrive off the crowd, have some fun and hopefully help the team get some wins.”
It’s this kind of attitude, one of few weighted objectives, that certainly brought the young Canadian an abundance of success last season. MacKinnon plans on entering his second year the same way he did his first, with little to no pressure on himself to do anything other than play the game he’s so visibly good at.
That should help him cast off the notion of the sophomore slump, a term attributed to players who fail to meet often exceedingly-high expectations in their follow-up campaigns. In fact, MacKinnon doesn’t think the phenomenon behind the term truly exists.
“It’s not real. I don’t really understand. I don’t really believe in luck or slumps or anything like that. It’s all your mindset,” said MacKinnon. “Some guys might feel overconfident coming into the season or feel like they’re going to tear it up and they feel too comfortable. I think that’s what limits some guys.
“When things aren’t going well and you have high expectations, in anything, it’s always tougher to swallow. If you come in levelheaded, ready to play every night, I think it’s different. If I slump, it’s not because I’m in my second season.”
Even so, MacKinnon knows that this year with the Avalanche won’t be like the last. That’s just the way it is when you have 89 games of top-tier professional hockey under your belt.
“Obviously, I feel more comfortable. Last year, it was a lot to take in. For everything going on—I didn’t know where I was going to live, even buying a car was stressful—I’m kind of settled in already,” MacKinnon said. “I know all the guys and things like that so it’s definitely very different from last season.”
For him, the looming campaign is still over three weeks away. That means the focus is still on training camp and finding that extra gear required to hit the ground skating on opening night.
“I’m still in camp shape,” said MacKinnon. “I’m sure we’ll do some ‘baggers’ on Friday that I haven’t done all summer, and I’ll be pretty tired. Even over these past few days I feel better and better.
“I feel like if I was told to go play I could, but I’ll start kind of working up towards that.”