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All-Star Game

MacKinnon has 'cool experience' coaching at All-Star Game

Injury puts Avalanche center behind bench instead of playing with linemates Landeskog, Rantanen

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

SAN JOSE -- Nathan MacKinnon didn't let a bruised left foot keep him from taking part in the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game, even if it wasn't the way he'd planned.

The injury sustained in the Colorado Avalanche's 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday prevented MacKinnon from competing in the 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills on Friday or skating in the All-Star Game on Saturday. Instead of playing for the Central Division team, MacKinnon was on the bench as an assistant to coach Paul Maurice.

"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."

 

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When asked if the 23-year-old center might have a future as a coach, Maurice had no hesitation suggesting that a player of MacKinnon's ability could make the transition down the road.

"He wouldn't like the pay cut for sure; that would be the first thing he would have to get over," Maurice, coach of the division-leading Winnipeg Jets, said with a laugh. "But any of these guys that play at the level that Nathan does, if they have an interest, they absolutely can do it because they're wired to all the things that are happening on the ice. They have that ability to process a bunch of different things at the same time."

Video: Gabriel Landeskog on his four goal night

The team MacKinnon helped coach featured Avalanche linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They combined for nine goals and 13 points in the Central Division's 10-4 win against the Pacific Division in the first game and a 10-5 loss to the Metropolitan Division in the final.

"It was miserable," Landeskog joked about having his teammate as a coach. "[MacKinnon] was good. He was actually more positive coaching than he is when he plays. Sometimes he starts yelling at his linemates -- all in good fun though. Mikko was complaining that he didn't get enough ice time. We had some friendly banter on the ice and it was a lot of fun."

Having MacKinnon behind the bench interacting with his teammates was such a positive experience for Maurice that he thinks the NHL should let a player coach again at the annual event.

"He's hard to deal with. He's cantankerous. You know what? It was great -- to the point that I was talking to the other coaches after. It might be an idea," Maurice said. "Put a player back there -- because they had fun. And part of it was there's some Colorado ties to it. They were chirping and laughing, which is really what the All-Star Game should be about. He was fantastic -- really good."

In addition to the Rantanen-Landeskog duo, St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly also had a big night under the watch of his former Avalanche teammate. O'Reilly, who played for Colorado during MacKinnon's first two NHL seasons, had seven points in the two games.

"I'm gonna throw O'Reilly in there, right? It was the whole Colorado mafia," Maurice said. "That was the best part of the All-Star Game for me, the way those guys interacted."

Maurice, who coached MacKinnon with Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship, also reflected on MacKinnon's growth into one of the NHL's top scorers. He said he saw this coming from MacKinnon, who's tied for fifth in the League with 71 points (27 goals, 44 assists) in 50 games after finishing fifth last season with 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists) in 74 games.

"I remember standing on the ice and watching [MacKinnon] take off and do a sprint, thinking 'Oh my God, this guy is something else,'" Maurice said. "There are some great young players, but in the games we've played this year, he's the most powerful individual and the most dominant individual that we've played."

Rantanen said MacKinnon had an impressive coaching debut and made the event a memorable one for his players.

"He was doing actually very good for the first time," Rantanen said. "He was actually saying pretty much who's going on the ice and stuff. He was doing a lot of fun things. It was one of the funnest weekends I've ever had."

MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog have combined for 47 percent of Colorado's goals through 50 games, but the Avalanche lost 16 of their final 21 games before the break. After a positive experience at All-Star Weekend, the three forwards want to help their team right the ship.

"I don't know how much it's going to affect our team in the second half," MacKinnon said, "but it's memories we'll be able to share together."

The Avalanche have their NHL-mandated five-day break before hosting the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 2 (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, SN1, SN360, CITY, ALT2, NHL.TV).

"I hope so," Landeskog said when asked if All-Star Weekend would give the Avalanche a boost. "Everybody knows it's a team game and it's more than just one line or a few players. But nonetheless it's been a fun weekend and I think our whole team knows what's expected when we come back. We've got to make sure we hit the ground running."

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