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'Pressure is there' for Nathan MacKinnon to win Cup

Former No. 1 pick, 2014 Calder Trophy winner signs seven-year, $44.1 million contract to stay with Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

DENVER -- Center Nathan MacKinnon on Friday signed a seven-year, $44.1 million contract to remain with the Colorado Avalanche.

The contract, which runs through the 2022-23 season, has an average annual value of $6.3 million, highest on the Avalanche.

"Honestly, it was very weird signing it today," MacKinnon, 20, said from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during a conference call. "I hesitated before I sent it back, just thinking where I'm from and that kind of money. It's just crazy to me, but I'm very lucky and I know I'm very fortunate. It's nice to have security, and I know Denver will be my home for the next seven seasons.

"It weighs on you. I've been thinking about it for a long time. Now, I can finish off my training and have a clear head and know where my home will be for the next seven years.

"Negotiations were great, they were very fair and patient with me. I wanted to be in Colorado for a long time, and I'm definitely very thankful for what happened. When you're fortunate enough to make this kind of money, it comes with leadership. I'm young, but I'm going into my fourth season. It's definitely a time to take on more of a leadership role."

MacKinnon planned to celebrate by going to dinner with his parents and a few friends.

"Nothing too crazy; getting ready for next season," he said.

MacKinnon was one of Colorado's four remaining restricted free agents. Defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Mikhail Grigorenko have opted for salary arbitration, and defenseman Duncan Siemens is unsigned.

"Signing Nathan to a long-term contract was a priority this offseason," Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said in a statement. "He is going to be a key part of our team for many years to come and it was important to secure his rights moving forward."

Video: The guys break down Nathan Mackinnon's contract

MacKinnon is entering his fourth NHL season after finishing third on the Avalanche in scoring in 2015-16 with 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 72 games. The 6-foot, 195-pound center missed the final 10 games because of a knee injury.

"I'm great, fully recovered," he said. "I've been skating and training, and everything has been great. I've been in Halifax mostly with friends and family. I've been training for a month and a half now. I feel great and I'm starting to get back on the ice more seriously. The summer's been flying by."

Selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie the following season after he had 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games. He had two goals and eight assists in seven games in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Avalanche have missed the postseason two seasons in a row, and MacKinnon said he is more motivated than ever to help them return.

"Obviously, the pressure is there since signing this," he said. "They're making it a point that they want me to help us get back to the Cup. That's the whole goal behind this. I really think the players we have -- the young guys we have, the veterans -- we have a very good mix. It's been a disappointing couple seasons. I truly believe we're going to be a very strong team and a contender for years to come.

"I think everybody on the team has a little chip on their shoulder. I think we're really going to challenge ourselves. Me personally, I've never felt more motivated than I have the past couple months. I think I have a lot to prove in this league. I think I can take my game to a whole other level and I'm really excited to show it this season, especially with this new contract. There's a lot of pressure to perform, and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

MacKinnon hasn't thought very much about being the Avalanche's highest-paid player. Center Matt Duchene and defenseman Eric Johnson each will make $6 million this season, according to General Fanager.

"It doesn't mean much to me," MacKinnon said. "At the end of the day when we're all out there, money's not going to my head at all."

As has been his custom, MacKinnon said he'll do some offseason training with fellow Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in June.

"I've had some great moments, I've had some down moments," MacKinnon said. "You have to kind of even it all out. A good example is what Sid did this season. People tell you he's over the hill, he was done, (and then) he's up for the Hart [Trophy] and he wins the Conn Smythe. It's pretty amazing."

MacKinnon, who has 59 goals and 94 assists in 218 NHL games, will represent Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which will be held from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto.

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