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Coach says MacKinnon stood out at young age

by Mike G. Morreale

Jon Greenwood still remembers the first time he set sights on Nathan MacKinnon as an 11-year-old with the Cole Harbour Wings in Nova Scotia.

Greenwood, who now serves as the director of hockey development of the Maritime Hockey Academy, was MacKinnon's coach at the time. It would be the start of a great friendship between mentor and student.

"He was different," Greenwood told "His skating was something that jumped out at me right away. As that first season went on, I started to think, 'Gee, this is the best first-year pee wee player we've seen in some time.' That eventually grew to my thinking there may not be as good a player in the province and maybe even Canada."

In Jon Greenwood's eyes, Nathan MacKinnon was always the best player on the ice "by a landslide." (Photo: Maritime Hockey Academy)

Greenwood's thinking might certainly prove prophetic at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark, N.J. MacKinnon, who is in his second season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is considered by many to be the top-ranked Canadian prospect on the board.

Through 14 games this season, MacKinnon has a team-leading 17 goals and 26 points. He also tops the team with six power-play goals and two shorthanded goals.

In Greenwood's eyes, MacKinnon was always the best player on the ice "by a landslide." The youngster craved the need to get better.

"He was so keen and eager to learn," Greenwood said. "He would always take advice, and as much as you relied on him for his offense, he did want to become a complete player. He never wanted to be labeled as sort of an offensive-only player, so he was very coachable."

MacKinnon grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a short drive from Sidney Crosby's home in Cole Harbour. Asked for his greatest influences as a young teen playing hockey, MacKinnon mentioned his father and Greenwood.

"He did a lot for me," MacKinnon said of Greenwood. "Other than my dad, he always was around and he developed my skills … he was my teacher and not just my coach. We have a great relationship and I still talk to him even while I'm in Halifax."

Despite the fact there may be a lot more pressure riding on MacKinnon's shoulders this season than previous ones, he's learned how to deal with the stress.

"I don't think any athlete had more pressure than Sid growing up," MacKinnon said. "Even Wayne Gretzky said [Crosby] was going to be special, so I can only imagine what that was like for him. For him to come out on top and play the way he has with that pressure, it's pretty crazy."

MacKinnon knows the comparisons between him and Crosby are inevitable.


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"There's only one Sid, but if there's one thing I can take away from him is trying to do the best I can," MacKinnon said. "There's nothing to compare but I can try and work as hard as he works."

The one area of MacKinnon's game that goes unnoticed, according to Greenwood, is his desire to play with an edge. It's a facet of his game that, at times, can surprise opponents.

"During his first year of body contact, he always had that strong center of gravity and was so strong on his skates," Greenwood said. "People tried to run him, but he'd be ready for it. He'd go out of his way to finish checks and had no problem being the first forward in there, plowing someone over."

Imagine that? Nathan MacKinnon, power forward.

"That's the other thing that makes him different," Greenwood said. "There's nothing perimeter about his game. He's a rare blend that's so skilled, with also a bit of power forward in his game as well."

There's a very good chance MacKinnon will be invited to Hockey Canada's selection camp for the 2013 World Junior Championship. The roster should be released near the end of November.

"The kid has put up tremendous numbers this year and he's done everything that's been asked of him in Halifax," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast told "The Pipeline Show" last week. "He's killing penalties, he's playing physical, he's a phenomenal skater. We still have a little ways to go before we name our team, but at this point he's certainly on the A list."

Representing his country at the WJC would be an absolute dream come true for MacKinnon.

"There's still a lot of hockey to be played before then," he said. "That's my goal … to be able to represent my country over in [Ufa] Russia [Dec. 26-Jan. 5]. That's what I'm striving for, but at the same time, I'm in Halifax and I'll continue to do whatever it takes to help my team here."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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