Ask players around the league who's the fastest skater in the NHL and the same handful of names come up: Taylor Hall, Michael Grabner, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Cogliano and Carl Hagelin.
Hall likes Grabner's speed, but he brought up another name without hesitation.
"Nathan MacKinnon," the Edmonton Oilers winger said. "When we played against him last year he took off at one point during the game and I'd never seen anything like that."
MacKinnon, last year's Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year with 24 goals and 39 assists, might be the best combination of speed and skill hockey has seen since Pavel Bure.
Hall believes if he raced against MacKinnon and Grabner, something that could potentially happen at the All-Star skills competition in Columbus in January, that the 19-year-old budding Colorado Avalanche star would win.
But Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog pointed out that it's the usefulness of MacKinnon's speed that makes him so dangerous.
"I go another step and say he's the fastest skater in the league with the puck," Landeskog said. "It's easy to be fast without the puck, but when you have the puck it's a completely different thing. That's what Nate does so well."
Landeskog spent his first three NHL seasons playing with former Avalanche centre Paul Stastny, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Landeskog said Stastny is adapt at slowing the game down to make plays, but what MacKinnon does so well is think and play the game at full-speed.
"That's what the best players do," Landeskog said. "They're a step ahead and I think when it comes to Nate, when you're able to move at a high pace and stickhandle at the same time and make moves at the same time, that's when it's hard on defencemen."
MacKinnon, who will face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, isn't eager to dissect his own game but knows he needs a quick speed burst to be successful.
"Obviously I think my speed is my biggest strength, for sure my skating or whatever," the Cole Harbour, N.S., native said. "I think when you get the puck you're always so excited, you have a little extra jump in your step."
If anyone outside hockey was unfamiliar with MacKinnon's speed, they got a chance to see him race Canadian gold-medal speedskater Charles Hamelin in a promotional video for CCM's Tacks skates. In the 50-foot race from blue-line to blue-line, MacKinnon beat Hamelin with a time of 2.5 seconds.
"His acceleration was way too fast for me," Hamelin said in the video.
The idea of a fastest skater competition between the likes of MacKinnon and Hall is fun to think about. In past skills competitions, players have raced a lap around the outside of the rink.
Mike Gartner set the record of 13.386 seconds in 1996, which Hagelin of the New York Rangers broke at the last event in Ottawa in 2012 with a time of 13.218 seconds. MacKinnon, Hall and Grabner could challenge that in a few months.
But MacKinnon is worried about speed with the puck on his stick when it matters.
"In the game, though, it's always different," he said.
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