Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon will be at the center of the hockey universe for the next three days, serving as the team's lone representative at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles, California.
"It's exciting. Obviously, it's been a tough year, but it's definitely something to be excited about hockey-wise," MacKinnon said of the honor. "I'm looking forward to it. I got a lot of friends that are going, so looking forward to it, for sure."
The 21-year-old native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, will be attending the event for the first time in his young career, joining the ranks of Avalanche alumni like Joe Sakic (seven times), Peter Forsberg (five), Patrick Roy (five), Milan Hejduk (three), Sandis Ozolinsh (three), Rob Blake (three), Matt Duchene (two), Valeri Kamensky, Jari Kurri, Ray Bourque, Alex Tanguay and Paul Stastny.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon heads to NHL All-Star Game
"I'm excited to be a part of the game itself and check it off the bucket list," MacKinnon said. "It's cool to be able to be at one and say that you participated in the All-Star Game."
Part of the glamour of the weekend's festivities lies in the chance to skate with and against friends from around the league in a more relaxed, fun environment. Sure, everything is a competition, but it's an opportunity for friends to get together and have fun.
"It's been a down year, but to do something like that is awesome," admitted MacKinnon. "You know, I train with a lot of different guys that are going, so it will be good to see them and catch up."
The commingling also provides a setting for the young player to disconnect from Colorado's struggles and engage with and learn from some of the rest of the NHL's superstars, which is an invaluable experience.
"I think he's been playing really well lately. I shouldn't say lately. You look at the season our team is having and the season he's having. He's been a guy that's been noticeably contributing in a positive manner all season. That's why he's there," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "I think it's a great experience for him. He has the ability to go there and see those guys for the first time, and I think it's a little bit of a mental break for him, too.
"But to be able to understand that he belongs there and go play with those guys, it's a lot of fun. He'll get to meet guys throughout the league and chat with them. So I don't see anything but positivity coming out of that trip for him."
MacKinnon will represent Team Central Division at the event, which includes both Saturday's skills competition and Sunday's 3-on-3 tournament.
The 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition takes pace on Saturday at 5 p.m. MT and includes events likes the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay, Honda NHL Four Line Challenge. DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting, Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot and Discover NHL Shootout.
While MacKinnon seems like a lock for the fastest skater race, he could factor into any number of the challenges.
The 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game will follow on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. MT. The event features a 3-on-3 format with a prize pool of $1 million to be paid in its entirety to the tournament's winning team. Squads representing each division will face off in a semifinal round, with the two winners then battling it out for bragging rights and the $1 million purse.