Nathan MacKinnon showed again why he's the top offensive player available for the 2013 NHL Draft.
The Halifax Mooseheads center, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft, showcased his full offensive arsenal, scoring a second-period hat trick as his team cruised to a 7-4 victory against the Portland Winterhawks in round-robin play at the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Saturday at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
MEMORIAL CUP SCHEDULE
May 17, 8 p.m. ET - London 3, Saskatoon 2
May 18, 7 p.m. ET - Halifax 7, Portland 4
May 19, 7 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Halifax
May 20, 8 p.m. ET - Portland vs. London
May 21, 8 p.m. ET - Halifax vs. London
May 22, 8 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Portland
May 23, 8 p.m. ET - tiebreaker game, if necessary
May 24, 8 p.m. ET - semifinal game
May 26, 7 p.m. ET - championship game
The game was billed as MacKinnon against Portland defenseman Seth Jones, Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater -- they're expected to be the first two players picked at this year's draft. It marked the fourth time they had met on the ice this season. MacKinnon and Canada beat Jones and the United States in the preliminary round at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, but Jones got his revenge with a 5-1 win in the semifinals en route to winning the gold medal. Jones' Team Orr also beat MacKinnon's Team Cherry at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
This time, though, it was all MacKinnon, who scored at even strength, on the power play -- powering past Jones to get to the net -- and shorthanded. He also had an assist and a plus-4 rating.
"He won't be scoring three goals every night, [but] at the same time he's a guy that competes all the time," Halifax coach Dominick Ducharme said. "Tonight he made things happen. He was skating, he was hard on the puck. It was hard to get the puck away from him, he was strong on it. Obviously he was a key player in our comeback in that win. He's a kind of player that can make a difference like that."
Two other top draft prospects excelled for Halifax. Jonathan Drouin had a goal that sparked a five-goal second period, and goaltender Zach Fucale, Central Scouting's top-rated North American goalie, made 37 saves. Detroit Red Wings draft pick Martin Frk had a goal and an assist, and Luca Ciampini and St. Louis Blues draft pick Stephen MacAulay scored.
Jones scored Portland's first goal but was a minus-2. Winterhawks defenseman Troy Rutkowski, an Ottawa Senators prospect, had a pair of goals, and Ty Rattie, a Blues draft pick, had a goal and two assists. Mac Carruth, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, allowed seven goals on 35 shots after he surrendered 10 in six games to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL finals.
The Winterhawks led 3-1 at 2:19 of the second period, but that's when Halifax, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions and the top-rated team in the Canadian Hockey League, turned on the attack.
"We thought that we were not skating as well as we're able to skate, we weren't applying pressure," Ducharme said of his team's early play. "We were looking; we were watching them a little too much. We were not as active as we wish. When we started doing this, we played better. The other thing is quite often we were getting caught puck-watching, getting beat two or three guys by one pass, leaving a lot of space for them to gather sped. They played much better in the first and we wanted to make sure we came back strong in the second and that's what we did."
Drouin, No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, reached back to knock a loose puck past Carruth at 3:16 of the second to get the Mooseheads within a goal at 3-2. Just over a minute later, MacKinnon's first of the game tied it at 4:36 when he tipped a Brendan Duke shot past Carruth.
Undisciplined play by Portland allowed Halifax to take over the last half of the second period. A slashing penalty on Derrick Pouliot led to Ciampini's go-ahead goal at 11:17, and after Chase DeLeo was called for hooking, MacKinnon's man-advantage goal at 14:03, which saw him race around Jones and drive to the net, made it 5-3.
"I think he [MacKinnon] was happy about it," Drouin told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "Seth was probably not happy but that's just part of the game. Nate has that speed to burn and he used it there."
MacKinnon completed his hat trick with a shorthanded goal that he scored from a sharp angle with 1:25 left in the second, giving the Mooseheads a 6-3 lead.
"I've never played with a junior hockey player that has that much speed coming wide or that power to break to the net at the same time," Halifax co-captain Stefan Fournier told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "Nate's a fantastic hockey player and whether he goes one, two or three [in the NHL draft], it really doesn't make that much difference. He'll probably have a lengthy and extremely good career. For him at this point, it's just important he shows he's on the right path and I think he did that [Saturday]."
Portland coach Travis Green said he was happy with his team's play in the first period, but when Halifax raised its play in the second, his team couldn't keep up.
"They had to push, give them credit," Green said. "They pushed back. We mismanaged the puck a couple times. They had a couple lucky bounces for goals that went in from behind the net. All of a sudden the momentum starts to go and they were feeling good about themselves. Our energy level dipped, which happens when momentum swings like that."
Portland got a goal back on Rutkowski's second of the game, a power-play score set up by Rattie 1:09 into the third.
However, Halifax regained the momentum back when MacAulay, who was part of the Saint John Sea Dogs team that won the Memorial Cup in 2011, spun and knocked a puck past Carruth at 5:33.
Portland carried the play in the first period, outshooting Halifax 16-7, but it was Frk who opened the scoring when he scored off a MacKinnon setup at 15:46. Jones answered with a rocket from the point that went over Fucale's glove at 16:41.
That was all Portland was able to get in the opening 20 minutes thanks to Fucale, who went 16-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average in 17 QMJHL playoff games.
"He's done pretty good, that's for sure," Ducharme said of his goaltender. "The best thing about it is if your team doesn't start the right way, your goaltender can give you time to come back, and he did that [Saturday]."
Rutkowski's shot from the point got past Fucale 39 seconds into the second to put Portland ahead 2-1, and after a penalty on Abeltshauer for closing his hand on the puck at 1:51, Rattie gave the Winterhawks a 3-1 lead at 2:11 when he cut through the slot and slid a backhander past Fucale. However, it was all downhill after that for Portland, which sustained its worst loss of the season.
Halifax returns to the ice Sunday against the host Saskatoon Blades. Portland next plays Monday against the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights. London opened its Memorial Cup play with a 3-2 win against Saskatoon on Friday.