ST. LOUIS--Nathan MacKinnon is at his fourth NHL All-Star Weekend, but the event hasn't lost any luster for the Colorado Avalanche forward.
He says being around some of the best players in the world "gets your juices going."
There are two on-ice portions that MacKinnon will participate in as the captain of the Central Division for the second consecutive year--Friday's skills competition and Saturday's 3-on-3 tournament--but it's the moments away from the rink that he enjoys the most.
"I think just talking with guys from all the teams," said MacKinnon at NHL All-Star Media Day at Stifel Theatre on Thursday evening. "It's weird how you battle with these guys every night and then you become close with them at the All-Star Game and then you go back to battle with them after. It's fun to catch up and pick some guys' brains. Some of the best players in the world are here, so it's an awesome weekend."
One of the players he's grown close to at these mid-winter classics is Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. Kane's Hawks and MacKinnon's Avs face off at least four time a season in the tightly-contested Central Division, but the two rivals have formed a bond at All-Star Weekend.
The American Kane, 31, has participated in the NHL All-Star Game nine times, including each of the previous three that the 24-year MacKinnon has gone to.
"Patrick Kane is a guy I see every year here," MacKinnon said. "Obviously he's never had a bad year, so he's always here.
"First ballot hall of fame, all that stuff. He's a great guy as well. It goes deeper than just the skillset I think. It's always fun to play against him."
While they may be division rivals and their teams battled against one another for a playoff spot a season ago, any bad blood between Kane or MacKinnon doesn't spill over once the final buzzer sounds. In fact, MacKinnon says that's the case with a lot of teams and that's what makes these type of league events so great.
"I think the modern day NHL, I think everyone is friends," MacKinnon said. "There is not a lot of hatred on the ice versus the old days when it might have been a little different at All-Star Games. It's relaxed. Guys have a good time together and talk. It's a good weekend."
Video: Nathan MacKinnon at 2020 NHL All-Star Media Day
Kane's career to this point is what MacKinnon and his Avalanche strive for, as he's already won three Stanley Cups. In addition, the 2007 first overall draft pick has won a Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP, Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and recorded his 1000th career point last Sunday.
This year, MacKinnon, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick, is doing his best to accomplish what Kane has already done. After playing in all 49 games to this point, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native has 30 goals and 42 assists for 72 points, ranking third overall in league scoring at the break.
He's in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy (most points) and Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (most goals) and could be a finalist for the Hart.
MacKinnon, who has 474 points (185 goals, 289 assists) in 505 career games, says he's less focused on trying to win trophies this year than he was two years ago when he was a finalist for MVP but finished runner-up to Taylor Hall.
"I'm not too worried about it this year," MacKinnon said. "If I win it, then I do. If I don't, I'm just happy to be up for it."
BACK ON THE ICE
After missing the on-ice portion at last year's festivities in San Jose, MacKinnon will be participating in both the All-Star Skills and Game this year at Enterprise Center.
MacKinnon still made the most of the weekend in 2019, as he participated in all of the off-ice events and was an assistant for head coach Paul Maurice on the Central Division bench.
MacKinnon had a rinkside seat to watch Colorado linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen combine for eight goals and 13 points over two games, as the Central eventually lost to the Metropolitan in the final.
"I was just chilling on the bench, watching Landy and Mikko, stress free," MacKinnon recalled. "I was with Paul Maurice, he's a great guy, I had him at [World Championship] my first year when I was 18. Just hanging out."
All-Star weekend kicks off with the annual skills competition on Friday, and the only event that MacKinnon will participate in at this time is Fastest Skater.
Each of the eight players partaking will be timed for one full lap around the rink and whoever has the fastest time is the winner.
MacKinnon will be going up against Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers), Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Anthony Duclair (Ottawa Senators), Travis Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers) and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks).
The Avalanche's Cale Makar fell short in the All-Star Last Men In Ballot, but MacKinnon thinks the 3-on-3 format would have fit the rookie defenseman's skillset perfectly.
"He's the fastest guy in the world," MacKinnon said. "He's a freak out there, and I think 3-on-3 he would thrive. It sucks that he didn't get to come this year."
Makar leads all rookie skaters at the break in scoring with 37 points, three more than Hughes has (34 points) in seven fewer games played.
One specific All-Star Game doesn't stick out for MacKinnon, but he says he loved watching the league's winter showcase every year while growing up.
A memory that does resonate with him is when the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin were teammates for one of the games. MacKinnon is now close friends with Crosby as the two are from the same hometown.
"I remember Sid and Ovi were linemates one all-star game, I thought that was really cool," he said reflecting on past contests. "Lots of moments. The young skills, they used to do a rookies (game), and that was really cool as well. Lots of good memories."