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MacKinnon Deserving of MVP Recognition

Teammates agree that the Avalanche forward is among the best in the league

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

For Nathan MacKinnon's teammates, it came as no shock that the Colorado Avalanche center is up for the league's MVP awards.

"It would have surprised me if he wouldn't have been one of the finalists, so speaks for itself," said Avs goaltender Philipp Grubauer. "Great guy; obviously can make something happen out there so hopefully he's going to win it."

"I mean there's no doubt there," said defenseman Samuel Girard. "Nate is like, if he's not the best player, he's not that far. You know he's so good on the ice."

MacKinnon's stature as one of the game's top players has been on display this week as he was named a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy on Tuesday, exactly one week after also being honored as one of the nominees for the Ted Lindsay Award. This is MacKinnon's second time in his career that he's been up for both honors after also being named a finalist for the two trophies in 2018.

The Hart is given "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team" as voted by league writers, while the Lindsay goes to the "most outstanding player in the NHL" as chosen by his peers in the NHL Players' Association. The Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl and the New York Rangers' Artemi Panarin are also finalists for both awards.

MacKinnon, 24, finished his seventh season with the Avalanche with 93 points, registering 35 goals and 58 assists in 69 games. He ended up fifth in the league in scoring, ranked ninth overall in goals and finished sixth among all NHL players in assists.

The No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and the winner of the 2014 Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year, MacKinnon became the first player in franchise history this season to lead the club in points for four straight campaigns. The 2019-20 season also marked the third consecutive year that he produced 90-plus points, a mark that no other Avs skater has ever accomplished since the team moved to Denver in 1995.

"We're spoiled. We see him every day, but obviously the impact that he has for our team, we consider him an MVP candidate and the lots around the league are taking notice of that," said head coach Jared Bednar.

Due to injury and illness throughout the Avs lineup during the season--including 16 games missed from Gabriel Landeskog and 28 contests too from Mikko Rantanen, two of his consistent linemates over the previous two years--MacKinnon finished with 43 more points than the next closest player on the team, rookie Cale Maker (50 points). It was the largest gap for any club since the 2007-08 when the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin had 112 points and Nicklas Backstrom recorded 69.

On an Avalanche team that was ravished by two big waves of injuries (end of October and November and then again in February and March), one consistent aspect of the squad this year was MacKinnon's play as the No. 1 center. He appeared in each of the first 69 games before suffering a lower-body injury on March 9 and missing the March 11 game against the New York Rangers. That ended up being the last contest of the regular season as the league paused the campaign the following day due to concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic and then decided to jump straight to the postseason with Stanley Cup qualifier and playoff games.

The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native, who opened the campaign with an Avalanche-record 13-game point streak, had only 16 contests without a goal or an assist during the campaign and produced multiple points on 29 occasions, tied for the second most in the league.

"If you look at this year and what he did with our team to try and keep us in the mix for first in the West, I think he has 43 more points than anyone else on our team," Bednar said. "When you look at some of the injuries that we had throughout the course of the season, and we didn't miss a beat and that was because of players like MacK leading the charge and elevating their game when we needed them most, and that's what an MVP does."

At the time of the pause, the Avs ranked second in the Western Conference with 92 points after producing a 42-20-8 record in 70 contests. Only the Central Division-rival St. Louis Blues had more with 94 points (42-19-10), but they also played one more game than Colorado (71) and the two teams were scheduled to close out the regular season against one another on April 4 at Pepsi Center.

Colorado ended up finishing second in the West once the league decided to make the season official and determined standings by points percentage, with the Avs' .657 percentage trailing only the Blues (.662) and Boston Bruins (.714) in the entire league. The strong season allowed the Avalanche to gain a bye for the playoffs and have a chance to get home-ice advantage throughout the postseason, as the team will face St. Louis (Aug. 2), Dallas Stars (Aug. 5) and Vegas Golden Knights (Aug. 8) in a round-robin format to determine the top four seeds in the Western Conference.

In addition to the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, MacKinnon was named a finalist last Thursday for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which is given "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

MacKinnon registered a career-low 12 penalty minutes, the second-fewest among the NHL's top 25 scorers, and no other forward averaged more ice time (21:13) in 2019-20 while taking fewer penalties.

"He's such a nice guy too off ice. Even during practice he's a leader and you want to follow him. He's always at least 100 percent on the ice," Girard said. "You want to be better game after game, practice after practice, so he's a good example on the ice and off ice."

MacKinnon is most definitely deserving as the Avalanche's most valuable player this season to his teammates and coach.

"I think it's very well deserved," Bednar said. "Hopefully he wins them both."

The winners of the league awards will be announced during the conference finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the Avs, they certainly hope to be celebrating together in the hub city of Edmonton, which means they are also a finalist for another shining trophy.

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