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MacKinnon taking game, Avalanche to new level

Credits mental approach for bounce-back season

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon didn't think he was playing his best hockey last season. This year had to be different. 

"I just wanted to have a bounce-back season," MacKinnon said.

But in preparing for that, MacKinnon's biggest adjustment wasn't in the gym or on the ice. It was between the ears. He said he's more "mentally even keel" this season, keeping a calmer perspective when things do go wrong. Judging from his numbers, the improved outlook is working.

 

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After MacKinnon had 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games last season, he has 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists) in 58 games, which lead the Avalanche and has him fourth in the NHL. He's been especially strong at Pepsi Center, where he's scored 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists). 

MacKinnon scored a power-play goal in Colorado's 2-1 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday to extend his point streak to six games (seven goals, six assists).

"The lows aren't as bad and the highs aren't as high," MacKinnon said. "You're definitely hard on yourself when you're younger. You want to do well and I still do, obviously. But I'm just feeling grateful with what I do for a living. My bad days aren't really that bad in the real world. You take everything in stride."

It's been an impressive season for MacKinnon, 22. He's in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player, but one that's not surprising his teammates.

Video: COL@CHI: MacKinnon lasers wrister past Berube for PPG

"He's a great player, like everyone knows," said MacKinnon's linemate Mikko Rantanen. "There aren't a lot of [defensemen] who can match his speed, so it's good for us. He's got a good shot, like he showed on the power play. So, it's been fun to watch him play and we're glad to have him on our team."

MacKinnon's production has been critical to the Avalanche (35-24-7, 77 points), who are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. 

"I think you always saw it with him, whether it was skill or speed or just raw talent, and it's amazing how far he's come just from last year to this year," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane said. "He's the main reason why that team is having so much success."

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon's improved demeanor has come through in his play.

"He had a tendency in the past to get frustrated if things didn't go his way or the team's way early," Bednar said. "Now he has a sticktoitiveness to his game and a commitment to his game to continue to play the right way and it's making all the difference in the world, especially late in hockey games.

"He's always put in all the work he needs in the offseason to get in top condition, on and off the ice, during the season. He takes care of himself real well, he studies the game, loves to watch hockey, loves to be at the rink. When you take the mental aspect of that and he strengthens that, it makes a difference for him."

Video: MIN@COL: MacKinnon buries his second of the night

MacKinnon has been part of the Avalanche's dynamic top line with Gabriel Landeskog, who has 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 62 games, and Rantanen, who has 64 points (22 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games. Landeskog said MacKinnon is playing a more straight-ahead game.

"He's had this attitude this year, that attack mentality," Landeskog said. "Every time he gets the puck he's going to attack defensemen and make them try to defend him. I think that's a mentality that a lot of forwards are trying to have, but it's easier said than done. He's got the skill set to do it. Just putting it together with his speed and with his skills, his shot. He can go through a defenseman, around him or shoot. It's fun to watch and fun to be a part of it."

The Avalanche, who finished with the worst record in the League (22-56-4) last season, are competing for a playoff spot this season and MacKinnon is a big reason why. 

"On the ice you can see, he's so dominant," Avalanche center Tyson Jost said. "He's a man among boys out there and he's always someone we can rely on. It's awesome to have someone like that on our team. He's always there. You know he's going to make a big play in a big part of the game, and [Tuesday] he did."

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