2013 Draft Eligibles: Buyers beware of the Crosby comparison for Nathan MacKinnon

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The argument over the top prospect in this year’s draft has been going on for over a year now and will continue up until draft day most likely. As hockey fans know it centers on Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon, Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones and MacKinnon’s teammate in Halifax, Jonathan Drouin.

Seth Jones is my number one overall prospect followed by Drouin and then MacKinnon. Some people may call me crazy for having MacKinnon at number three. Everyone knows that he’s a potential franchise player in the NHL with all the tools to succeed at the next level.

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However, I caution those who are comparing him to the best player in the world, that being the one and ONLY Sidney Crosby. I emphasize the word only because no one compares to Crosby. He is his own player and was a heck of a better player in juniors than MacKinnon ever was.

In the 2003-04 season, Crosby registered 54 goals, 81 assists for 135 points in 59 games played with the Rimouski Oceanic and won CHL rookie and player of the year.  He followed up his rookie season with another stellar year scoring 66 goals, 102 assists for 168 points in 62 games played en route to another CHL player of the year title.  He led the Oceanic to the Memorial Cup final that year where they loss 4-0 to Corey Perry’s London Knights.

MacKinnon’s first year in the QMJHL he scored 31 goals, 47 assists for 78 points in 58 games played. This past year MacKinnon has 32 goals, 43 assists for 75 points in only 44 games.  He did miss time in February with a knee injury. His numbers aren’t even in the same area code as Crosby and it’s an insult to Crosby, in my opinion, to compare MacKinnon to him.

Just like it’s not fair for MacKinnon to be compared to Crosby, MacKinnon is his own player as well. Just because they are both from Cole Harbour Nova Scotia, and both played midget hockey with the Cole Harbour Red Wings, and both left Nova Scotia to play at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Fairbault Minnsesota, and were both drafted number one overall in the QMJHL draft does not mean he’s the next Crosby.

 

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I think it’s also worth noting that Crosby, unlike MacKinnon, decided to play for the team that drafted him number one overall and turned that team into a powerhouse contender. MacKinnon was originally drafted by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar number one overall in 2011 and made it publicly known that he didn’t want to play for the woeful Drakkar. In fact, he didn’t even show up to the draft instead he was skating with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.  Ultimately, MacKinnon was granted his wish and was traded to his hometown Halifax Mooseheads for Carl Gelinas, Francis Turbide and three first round picks. That trade was only made possible because prior to dealing for MacKinnon, the Mooseheads traded Adam Erne to the Quebec Remparts for two first round picks and a second round pick.

What does MacKinnon bring to the table?

First, off he’s a dynamic center with the ability to lift fans out of their seats. MacKinnon does have patience with and without the puck and has the breathtaking speed to break away from opposing defensemen and has the shot to beat goaltenders. I’ll admit I am a fan of his wrist shot and like that he’s not afraid to shoot the puck like some players his age are. His accuracy and power is quite remarkable which allow him to score goals at the next level.

The 5’11 185 pound center won’t be a 50 goal scorer at the NHL level in my opinion like Steven Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin; but I can see him scoring 25-30 goals for years to come. MacKinnon is more of a playmaking type of player similar to John Tavares. He handles the puck pretty well in traffic and has the poise and vision needed to make plays at a high speed. One underrated aspect about MacKinnon is the physical aspect of his game. He does not back down from bigger more physically imposing players. Instead, he challenges them head on as witnessed in the video below.

 

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MacKinnon had a disappointing WJC for Canada this past year registering only 1 assist in 6 games as Canada finished fourth overall in the tournament. Not the type of performancescouts want to see during a player’s draft year. His teammate Jonathan Drouin had 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games and went MacKinnon went down with a knee injury in a February game against Moncton, Drouin rose the occasion. Jared Abbott posed the question at the time does MacKinnon need Drouin more than Drouin needed MacKinnon?

It’s a fair question to ask that will certainly be answered next year at the NHL level as both players will be top 5 draft picks. MacKinnon is ranked second overall by Central Scouting in their final North American skater rankings. ISS lists him as their third overall prospect in their April rankings. He’ll be off the board long before the Flyers select at 11 but I believe MacKinnon will be a top five pick.

Does the name Alexandre Daigle ring a bell?  Daigle was drafted first overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1993 and was considered a can’t miss prospect and an NHL superstar in the making. Daigle failed to live up to expectations, achieving a career high of  51 points in three separate regular seasons. Daigle is regarded  as one of the all time biggest bust in NHL history. MacKinnon will be a good NHL player, however I don’t believe he will be dominant franchise altering player like some have him pegged to be. The expectations very well may get the best of Nathan MacKinnon.

Note: MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads will be facing the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL finals starting on May 3. The winner will represent the QMJHL in the MasterCard Memorial Cup starting May 16-26 at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, SK. The Mooseheads are currently 12-0 in the playoffs and MacKinnon is currently tied with Jonathan Drouin for second in league playoff scoring with 28 points.