The hockey world had big expectations for Nathan MacKinnon heading into the 2013-14 season. He was selected first overall in the 2013 NHL Draft after a stellar junior career that culminated with winning the 2013 Memorial Cup and being named the tournament MVP with his hometown Halifax Mooseheads. The 18-year-old proved worthy of the hype in a dazzling rookie campaign.
"It's amazing what's going on right now," coach Patrick Roy said during the season. "Every game he wants more and more. It's amazing to look at him. He's been really sharp lately and performing really well. He deserves his ice time, and he's fun to watch. The speed that he has is just great to watch. For our fans, it's entertaining. For us, even as coaches, it's fun to see when he explodes on the outside."
His great speed and explosive first steps helped the Avs have a breakout season. A streaking Mackinnon tallied at least a point in 13 consecutive games from Jan. 25 to March 6 (five goals and 13 assists), breaking Wayne Gretzky's NHL record for the longest single-season point streak by an 18-year-old.
He led the Avalanche in shots (241), ranked second in assists (39-tied), plus/minus (+20) and power-play goals (8) and finished fourth in goals (24-tied) and points (63). He was one of five Avs to tally over 60 points, and he and Patrick Bordeleau were the only ones to play in all 82 regular-season games.
The rookie's well-rounded offensive attack helped the Avalanche clinch its first division title since 2003. That achievement was something that was not lost on MacKinnon.
"I'm very lucky to be on a winning team like this," he said. "A lot of young rookies come to teams that are losing. For me, I've been able to create winning habits right away. It's pretty exciting with everything that's going on here right now, and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
MacKinnon's speed and highlight-producing ability were on full display in the playoffs. He picked up three assists in the series opener versus Minnesota before topping it with a four-point night in Game 2. He finished the series tied for the team lead with 10 playoff points (two goals and eight assists).
In June at the NHL Awards, MacKinnon was rewarded for his outstanding season with the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. He led all rookies during the regular season in points, goals, assists, power-play goals, game-winning goals (5-tied), shots and games played. At the age of 18 years, 224 days on the final day of the regular season, MacKinnon became the youngest player and the third Avalanche player to win the Calder Trophy.
The individual achievement is nice, but MacKinnon isn't satisfied.
“I want to work on my overall lower-body strength, just so I can make more things happen below the dots,” he told NHL.com after the NHL Awards. “Rounding out my game is definitely my top priority this summer.”