Expectations amongst scouts and fans are sky-high for Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon, but the prize of the 2013 NHL Draft is having none of it.
Rather than setting goals for his draft year, MacKinnon is set out to take whatever comes to him.
“I didn’t really set any expectations for myself heading into this season,” MacKinnon said. “I think it makes it a lot harder on yourself trying to reach those goals so I just try and play as hard as I can every night.”
Though MacKinnon’s draft year is just beginning, the mental strategy is already appearing to pay dividends.
The Dartmouth, N.S. product kicked off his draft year in August with a bang at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in Central Europe. Centering a line of current Halifax linemate Jonathan Drouin and Edmonton Oil Kings draft eligible Curtis Lazar – both projected first round picks in their own right – MacKinnon lead the tournament in scoring with five goals and six assists in five games en route to Canada’s fifth straight gold medal finish.
The performance, which was the most points in an Ivan Hlinka tournament by a player since Tyler Seguin’s 15-point outburst in 2009, was considered a “pretty good” effort by MacKinnon himself.
“I think it went pretty good and it was a great experience, but representing Canada for the first time and winning gold was something special,” MacKinnon said.
Heading into his second season with Halifax, fans and scouts are expecting an improvement on a rookie season that saw MacKinnon score 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games. The centre’s season was good enough to finish second in QMJHL Rookie of the Year voting behind 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko.
Along with the success, MacKinnon’s game evolved into what many believe to be a more polished, all-around game than what it was heading into the 2011-12 season.
Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell saw firsthand the improvements in his game.
“When he first got here, like a lot of skilled players, the defensive side of the game was something he needed to work on and he’s improved on that a lot,” said Russell, who gave up three first round picks to acquire MacKinnon last summer. “Some people still say his vision still isn’t good, but I totally disagree as he is capable of beating players one on one and also capable of using his linemates.”
With the QMJHL season underway, MacKinnon has picked up right where he left off at the Ivan Hlinka – scoring seven goals and adding six assists through Halifax’s first seven games.
MacKinnon’s added another aspect of his game that sought improvement early in his Major Junior career with his ability to win faceoffs.
MacKinnon worked hard to improve on his work at the dot as the season went on and throughout the summer. Statistics show the hard work has paid off. MacKinnon has won 64 per cent of his faceoffs this season—up 26 per cent compared to the same point in his rookie season.
Assuming he can stay healthy, 17-year-old’s well-rounded play could find himself back in Europe representing Canada on a bigger stage at the World Junior Championship.
While skeptical, MacKinnon hopes to complete one of his lifelong goals in playing in the tournament in Sochi, Russia.
“It has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid to play in the World Juniors,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t know if it is going to happen, but it if does that would be great. It’s something I continue to work for.”
Though it is uncertain as to whether or not Hockey Canada will select MacKinnon in December, NHL teams are looking forward to the chance of selecting him in June at the NHL Draft.
Until then, MacKinnon will continue to work for whatever will come to him.