Throughout the 2018-19 campaign, Nathan MacKinnon continued his display of all-star ability, putting together another impressive season to solidify himself as one of the most dominant players in the National Hockey League.
In his sixth season with the Colorado Avalanche, MacKinnon led the team and finished tied for seventh in league scoring after posting a career-high 99 points (41 goals and 58 assists) in 82 games. His 99 points were the most by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07. He also joined Peter Forsberg as the only players in Avalanche history to record back-to-back seasons of 90-plus points after producing 97 in 2017-18. In addition to goals, assists and points, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native also led the team in ice time (22:05) and plus/minus rating (plus-20).
To begin the season, the 6-foot, 205-pound center scored a goal in each of his first six games (Oct. 4-16) to establish a new franchise record for the longest goal streak to begin a season, passing the previous mark of five straight games set by Mats Sundin to open the 1992-93 campaign with the Quebec Nordiques. MacKinnon also began the season registering a point in each of his first nine games (Oct. 4-22), tying John-Michael Liles (2010-11) and Mikko Rantanen (2018-19) for the longest point streak to begin a season in an Avalanche sweater.
"It's always nice to get off on a good start. It takes some pressure off you, for sure. You get a few on the board quick and early," MacKinnon said on Oct. 11 after tallying twice in a win at the Buffalo Sabres. "Last year wasn't a great start for me, but I got going. Hopefully I can continue this momentum for the whole season."
After recording 18 points (nine goals and nine assists) in October, MacKinnon continued to dominate the following month as he was named the NHL's Second Star for November after tying the league lead with 23 points (nine goals and 14 assists) in 14 games. His 23 points also equaled the Avalanche record for the most in the month of November, tying Forsberg from the 1995-96 season. Also in November, MacKinnon registered his 200th NHL assist on Nov. 7 against the Nashville Predators and skated in his 400th career game on Nov. 30 versus the St. Louis Blues.
Going into the All-Star Break in late January, MacKinnon ranked third in league scoring with 56 points (22 goals and 34 assists). This production helped him earn his third straight appearance at All-Star Weekend and was voted by the fans as the captain of the Central Division squad. This made him the first Avalanche player to serve as an All-Star Game captain since Sakic led the Western Conference team at the 2007 event in Dallas, and he became the first Colorado player to be selected to three straight All-Star Games since Rob Blake from 2001-02 to 2003-04. MacKinnon was also joined at the mid-winter showcase by fellow linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
"We're very fortunate that we get to spend it together," MacKinnon said of attending All-Star weekend with Landeskog and Rantanen. "I'm not sure it's going to happen again in our careers, the three of us going to the All-Star Game. We're all good friends, so hopefully we have some good memories and take some pictures together and enjoy it."
Unfortunately, MacKinnon was not able to skate at 2019 All-Star Weekend in San Jose due to an injury he suffered in the game right before the break. However, he still made his presence felt on the bench as he joined Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who was the named the coach of the Central Division, as a player-assistant for the 3-on-3 tournament.
"It was fun. I would have loved to play, but unfortunately coaching was the thing I did," MacKinnon said. "It was a good time with Paul; he kept it light and [it was] definitely a cool experience. We had eight guys; everybody was playing with everybody, and we all had a lot of fun."
After the All-Star Break, MacKinnon continued his offensive production as he went on to set a career high and finish tied for sixth overall in the NHL with 41 goals. He surpassed the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career and became Colorado's first 40-goal scorer since Milan Hejduk notched 50 in 2002-03. Goal No. 40 for MacKinnon came on April 2 versus the Edmonton Oilers and also marked his 400th career point, becoming the first player from the 2013 draft class to reach the milestone.
Reaching the 40-goal mark isn't an easy feat in today's NHL but putting pucks on net at a high rate can be a recipe for success, and that is something MacKinnon excelled at. The 23-year-old led the NHL with a franchise-record 365 shots, breaking Sakic's previous record of 339 that had stood since the Avalanche's inaugural season in Denver in 1995-96. He became the first Avs player to lead the league in shots, finishing with 24 more shots than second-place Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Video: EDM@COL: MacKinnon pots 40th goal, gets 400th point
The forward was also a key piece within the Avalanche's potent power play, finishing fourth in the NHL in power-play points with 37 and sixth in power-play assists with 25. He helped the Avalanche to the seventh best man-advantage unit in the league with a success rate of 22 percent.
MacKinnon was key to Colorado's success in reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight year, and he again proved vital to the club once the postseason began.
In the first round against the Calgary Flames, MacKinnon tallied eight points (three goals and five assist) and served as a crucial turning point of the series in Game 2. The Avs were shutout in Game 1 to the Flames and couldn't afford to go back to Pepsi Center down 2-0 in the series, and MacKinnon made sure that wasn't the case in a tight-checking Game 2 that needed overtime to decide a winner.
With 11:35 left in the first OT, MacKinnon streaked through the middle of the ice, received a pass from Rantanen and snapped a blistering wrist shot over the glove hand of Calgary goaltender Mike Smith to win the game and tie the best-of seven series at 1-1. It was MacKinnon's second career, playoff overtime goal.
Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: MacKinnon wins it after Grubauer save
"I mean there is nothing like a Stanley Cup-overtime goal," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog of MacKinnon's overtime marker following Game 2. "I have said it before, but Nate is a superstar and that is what superstars do."
The Avalanche went on to win the next three games of the series to eliminate the Flames, the Western Conference's best club during the regular season.
In the Western Conference Second Round, MacKinnon compiled five points (three goals and two assists) against the San Jose Sharks to finish second on the Avalanche in playoff scoring with a total of 13 points (six goals and seven assists). Colorado ultimately lost the series in seven games.
"It's obviously nice to take a step as an organization, "MacKinnon said after Game 7 against the Sharks. "We haven't won a round in 10, 12 years, whatever it was. It's good. It's positive. It's a young team… Our core is intact, everyone is under 25 or whatever it is. It's very positive."
Over the last two seasons, MacKinnon has recorded 196 points (80 goals and 116 assists). Only Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning (228) and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (224) have produced more since the start of 2017-18.
In the upcoming season, look for MacKinnon to continue his all-star caliber play and help lead the Avalanche back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight campaign.