NHL Draft prospects: No. 2 Nathan MacKinnon

Former Mooseheads star Nathan MacKinnon, now with the Colorado Avalanche, tweeted his congratulations to the club. (Liam Richards/CP)

Sportsnet.ca is previewing the top 30 prospects in the 30 days leading up to the National Hockey League draft in New Jersey on June 30.

The No. 2 prospect in our countdown is Nova Scotia’s next big superstar, Halifax Mooseheads forward Nathan MacKinnon.

Stats: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) | 44 GP | 32 G | 43 A | 75 P | +40 | 45 PIM

Who is Nathan MacKinnon?
MacKinnon was engulfed in the spotlight early in his career and comparisons were quickly drawn to Sidney Crosby. Both hail from the Halifax, N.S. suburb of Cole Harbour, and were drafted first overall in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft after playing at the Shattuck St. Mary’s program in Minnesota.

MacKinnon, who was drafted by Baie-Comeau, refused to report to the tiny city on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, and was traded to Halifax months after the draft. He finished second in rookie scoring in his first season, leading an upstart Mooseheads team to the league semifinals. He participated in the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Team Atlantic and captured a gold medal with Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Under-18 Tournament, where he scored a hat trick in the championship game. MacKinnon then made Canada’s world junior team in December, but played a diminished role.

Although teammate and fellow draft-eligible Jonathan Drouin stole some of his thunder this season, MacKinnon showed up when it mattered most. He led the Mooseheads to their first MasterCard Memorial Cup championship in franchise history, taking home the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament most valuable player and the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the tournament’s top scorer with 13 points in just four games.

Nathan MacKinnon’s scouting report:
MacKinnon is a high-octane, offensive force. He owns a potent shot and a dazzling array of stickhandling moves that make him a gifted scorer and playmaker. He sees the ice very well and can fit passes through tight lanes for his teammates, while also having the anticipation skills to always be in the right place at the right time.

MacKinnon’s skating stride is perhaps his most underappreciated quality. His two-step quickness is superb and he reaches top gear with alarming quickness. His hands and feet move in concert with each other, which enables him to make high-end moves without breaking stride. His shot can polarize goaltenders from the slot, the outside, or even with a well-placed wrist shot from the point.

One must look at the little intricacies of his game to truly appreciate just how special he is. From his anticipation, to his shiftiness, to his ability to kick a puck up to his stick and shoot in one fluid motion, MacKinnon is truly dynamic. He also plays with a chip on his shoulder and is able to stand up for himself. His willingness to play defence is another asset that makes him such a complete player.

Teams who might be interested in Nathan MacKinnon:
The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers will be honing in on his talents. Since the Avalanche are said to be looking for a forward, their best option could be the Mooseheads’ scoring sensation. MacKinnon isn’t fazed by the attention and rises to the challenge. He could form a truly deadly combination with captain Gabriel Landeskog if the Avs choose to make him the top pick. If not, the Panthers could pair him with Jonathan Huberdeau and watch the opposition’s net fill on a nightly pace.

Scout’s take: “A very competitive and powerful player with terrific offensive understanding and skill, MacKinnon has the ability to outskate his opponents without seemingly needing to move his feet,” says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He has very strong offensive timing and understanding and can pick his shots very well. His ability to cut and weave with the puck is elite and he can be near impossible to contain in the offensive zone around the puck.

“The most impressive ability that MacKinnon possesses is his ability to continuously raise his game when the situation calls for it,” MacLean continues. “His hat trick in the Ivan Hlinka final paced Canada to a gold medal last August and his two hat-tricks against Portland in the Memorial Cup matchups pushed Halifax to victory. What’s perhaps scariest about MacKinnon is he still doesn’t seem to actually understand what an elite goal scorer he is. The fact that he could stand to shoot more is scary considering his offensive output the past two seasons.”

“Nathan MacKinnon kind of has a bull in a china shop approach to him,” adds David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “He’s got a great shot. He’s got this great diagonal cut in to the middle of the net. I thought he was arguably the best player in the CHL from the second-round of the playoffs continuing on to his sensational performance at the Memorial Cup, where he pretty much just put the team on his shoulders and led Halifax to victory. That’s what Nathan MacKinnon brings to the table.

“He’s a game-breaker and he’s got great speed. He’s got great power, he’s fearless and like some good players, he has a tendency to try to do too much, but I really don’t see that as being a weakness. I think that MacKinnon has all the tools to be an effective NHLer and he’s done everything that he can possibly do in junior. I have no doubt that he’ll be in the NHL next season.”

Rankings: MacKinnon was ranked second by the NHL’s Central Scouting (North American skaters), first by International Scouting Services and second by McKeen’s Hockey.

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