Every year there is a story about a player who every pundit thought was done. Everyone on the face of the earth thought the player was on the decline but instead, they re-emerged as a star. This year, look no further than Denver, Colorado as Nathan MacKinnon leads the Colorado Avalanche recovery from infamy.
Rising From the Ashes: Nathan MacKinnon leads the Colorado Avalanche Rebirth
Last year was the darkest time in the Avs history in Colorado. They had their lowest point total since arriving from Quebec City and few analysts, armchair or professional, saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Many people saw this past off-season as a fork in the road for the Avs. Either they needed to tear down the team and rebuild around the youngsters or they needed to retool and try again. When the season started it looked like the front office decided to do neither and the team was bound for another tough season.
But then the games started and everyone was amazed at the results. The team won four of its first five games, including wins at MSG against the New York Rangers and back-to-back wins against the Boston Bruins. Things were looking up for the Avs young team and they have continued to all season. While not in a playoff spot right now, the Avalanche sit just four points back with a game in hand on the Calgary Flames.
So what changed from last year? Consistent goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier has definitely helped. Consistent lines have also managed to play a major factor in the team’s success. But the true difference between this year and last year is the play of Nathan MacKinnon.
As the team struggled last year, so too did the former first overall pick. MacKinnon had one of his worst statistical seasons of his career. Yes, its true he led the Avs in scoring by 12 points over Matt Duchene, but for MacKinnon himself it was a tough year. With a revolving door of line mates, MacKinnon really struggled to find consistency. It showed with his lowest points per game total ever.
The Phoenix Rises
Flash-forward to this season and the Young stud looks like the first overall pick everyone expected. During those first five games, MacKinnon managed four assists. Not bad for a player many thought was going to struggle again this season. Having consistent line mates has helped as he has been flanked for the most part by Mikko Rantanen. These two have formed a deadly combo as they have combined on 20 goals total, with assists on many more. Its almost uncanny the turn around from last season.
Even if you turn to advanced stats, MacKinnon has looked like a star. So far this season, MacKinnon’s corsi stats are well above his normal. His corsi for percentage is sitting at 57.5%, a full 4.2% higher than last season. It is also a full 3% higher than any other year of his career. Even his relative corsi for % is higher, sitting at 15.4%.
His team play has clearly improved. While some of that improvement can be credited to having Rantanen on his wing, a lot of the success still needs to be credited to MacKinnon. With lots of speculation surrounding the Avs stars, most of it towards Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon had a lot of pressure coming into this year. With the departure of Duchene and the role-playing and subsequent suspension of Landeskog, MacKinnon has taken on the role of the leader.
Where to go from here
There is no telling how far the Avs can go this year. And there is really no way of telling how high MacKinnon can fly. He is currently on pace to smash his career highs in both goals and points. He has truly taken on a phoenix persona; rising from the ashes, and the depths of the NHL basement, to fly high in the Denver sky once again. Fans should be thankful to get to watch such a great young talent producing once again.
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