|Forward Nathan MacKinnon celebrates a goal while playing for the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL).
Nathan MacKinnon says people have been talking about him entering the 2013 NHL Draft since his first game last year as a 16-year-old.
But the surreal reality is sinking in that just a few weeks from now, the Halifax Mooseheads center will finally know which NHL team he’ll represent on the front of his jersey, hopefully beginning next year.
“It’s kind of weird, there’s been a lot of build up to it, a lot of hype and speculation, and things like that,” MacKinnon said recently at the NHL Combine in Toronto. “But it’s almost over.”
And when it’s over, the six-foot, 182-pound 17-year-old will most likely go as one of the highest picks of the draft in Newark if not the highest. MacKinnon earned the final No. 2 ranking by Central Scouting among North American Skaters, but his recent performance leading his team to a MasterCard Memorial Cup moved him up to No. 1 in the Independent Scouting Service rankings ahead of Portland’s Seth Jones. Though these two players have been battling for the top spot for months, some ISS scouts say MacKinnon made a great last impression.
"Nathan MacKinnon moves back to ISS No. 1 after answering any questions we had about him with his dominating MVP Memorial Cup performance," ISS Director of Scouting Dennis MacInnis told TSN.ca. "I have personally been watching MacKinnon since he was a pee-wee, and while his skills have become top 1 percent in the world, what has impressed me most has been his growing maturity - the bigger the moment, the more hungry he becomes."
For those unfamiliar with MacKinnon’s style of play, some people, including his rival Jones, can sum it up for you: He’s a goal scorer.
In MacKinnon’s recent run at the Memorial Cup, he ended with seven goals, six assists and 13 points in just four games. Throughout the regular season, MacKinnon recorded 32 goals and 43 assists for 75 points in 44 games for the Mooseheads. In his first season with the Mooseheads, he broke the team’s record for most goals scored in a single game with five.
“I think I describe myself as a fast player that’s always hard on the forecheck, and I’m trying to make my linemates around me better as much as I can,” MacKinnon told NHL.com. “And have fun out there as well.”
MacKinnon was born in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 1, 1995. You might recognize the hometown to be that of one of the NHL’s current stars, Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby. Because of the mere distance between where these two players grew up, MacKinnon says he’s become used to the comparison.
But, that doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees he’s the next Crosby.
“It’s going to be tough for another player to come along and be Sidney Crosby,” MacKinnon told NHL.com. “So if I was from Toronto or Vancouver, I know these comparisons would never happen, and I’m OK with that.”
And though it’s flattering, maybe he doesn’t want to necessarily follow in someone else’s footsteps.
“I know I’m not Sidney Crosby, and hopefully I can make my own path as I go along.”
But with young upcoming players, sometimes comparisons are inevitable. MacKinnon has also been compared to other NHL stars because of the way he plays the game.
“He plays with determination and he’s just highly competitive with his style of play,” said Dan Marr, NHL director of Central Scouting, to NHL.com. “He’s one of those players who’s able to be a difference maker in the game, and because of that he’s drawing a lot of comparisons to that of (Tampa Bay’s) Steven Stamkos.”
And a difference maker is something Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has said he’s interested in. At the NHL combine, Tallon told media that he wanted a player who could contribute immediately.
“We're hopeful," Tallon told NHL.com. "We're going to be a young team. It's going to be a necessary part of our puzzle moving forward. I would hope the guy we select can play for us next year."
Though this year is a particularly deep draft pool, some say that of those prospects MacKinnon is one of the most NHL-ready players out there.
MacKinnon got the chance to show teams how ready he was at the combine, even though he admitted that he was tired from heading almost directly there from the Memorial Cup. But he said he believes his interviews went well.
“Different teams have different approaches to how they ask questions, but it’s been a fun process,” MacKinnon said at the combine.
Now, with his schedule cleared, he can sit back and enjoy the home stretch of the build up to June 30 he’s been waiting for so long, which he says will be great.
“I think the day itself will be the best thing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”