HALIFAX - Nathan MacKinnon was a long way from where he wanted to be on Sunday afternoon.
Ideally, the 16-year-old Halifax Mooseheads phenom would have liked to be in Calgary, competing for a spot on Canada's world junior squad. His second choice would have been to join his teammates on the ice as they snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Instead, the Halifax native watched the Mooseheads' 3-2 victory from the press box, scratched with a minor shoulder problem. The injury is a brief interruption in MacKinnon's brilliant rookie season, one in which he has racked up 19 goals and 49 points in 30 games and led his hometown team's resurgence in the standings.
MacKinnon leads Halifax in scoring and is seventh in the QMJHL. But he still didn't get an invitation to the selection camp in Calgary.
Despite his talents, MacKinnon's age works against him when it comes to Canada's junior team. The Hockey Canada braintrust has made it clear in recent years that the tournament is best suited for 19-year-old players and that the physical differences between them and 16-year-olds is too great.
The last 16-year-old to play for Canada's junior team was Sidney Crosby in 2004. Crosby, from nearby Cole Harbour, N.S., did well in that tournament with two goals and three assists in six games.
Rather than feel snubbed, MacKinnon prefers to look to the future.
"I guess the Canadian national program didn't feel that I was suited this year," MacKinnon said. "Hopefully I can go to camp next year and make the team and do as much as I can to help the team win."
Cam Russell, general manager of the Mooseheads, said his young star has the right attitude about being left out of the camp.
???He didn't get the invite, but he???s not going to feel sorry for himself,??? said Russell. "He's going to go out there and show everybody that he probably should have gotten an invite.???
MacKinnon made a statement a few days after the camp roster was revealed, scoring five goals in a win against the powerful Quebec Remparts. Performances like that have naturally made the local product a fan favourite in Halifax.
The Mooseheads acquired the five-foot-11, 179-pound winger last summer from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, who took him first overall in the 2011 QMJHL entry draft. With MacKinnon leading the offence, Halifax has jumped out to a 20-9-0-1 record after finishing well out of the playoffs for three consecutive years.
"You always have coaches sitting in their office thinking, if you could only combine that guy's skill and ability with that guy???s heart and determination," said Russell. "What you have with Nathan is that. He has world-class skill and he has the hunger and desire to be the best player.
"He plays physical, he plays hard and he plays a skill game."
Ducharme agrees that, much like Crosby, MacKinnon's success is due to a combination of skill and will.
"His skating, his jump, his power ??? the way he takes off is phenomenal. He's fast and his hands and shot are above average," said Ducharme. "The other thing he???s got is that fire to compete, that edge."
MacKinnon will showcase these gifts while representing Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Windsor, Ont., later this month. He knows that in order to crack next year's world junior team and continue his path to the NHL ??? he is eligible for the 2013 draft ??? there are elements of his game that need improvement.
"I need to get better at my defensive zone (play) and my faceoffs. I think that will come with experience and time, but I have to improve on some of those little aspects."