No pressure, kid: 15-year-old Nathan MacKinnon called ‘second coming’ of Sidney Crosby

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When people discuss prospects, there’s often a spot for an NHL comparison. A lot of times such comparisons draw guffaws from readers when a prospect is compared to, say, Joe Sakic. (Then again, the saddest times might be when a more lucid parallel is drawn to a decidedly marginal NHLer.)

It must be stomach-churning to be considered “The Next [Blank]” … even when an athlete embraces it. Kobe Bryant made an obvious nod to Michael Jordan when he changed his jersey number from 8 to 24, but it’s not like he could escape the comparisons anyway.

Sometimes the similarities run deeply enough that making comparisons only seems natural, even if it is still a bit unfair. That might be the case with 15-year-old prospect Nathan MacKinnon, whose name is often connected to Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby.

ESPN the Magazine’s Gare Joyce was one of the first – or at least most prominent – writers to spotlight the similarities between the two when MacKinnon was just 14 (subscription required).

Nathan MacKinnon is a little less like a lot of hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that his life has eerily tracked Sidney Crosby’s. He was raised minutes away from the home where Crosby grew up, in the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Eight years apart, they played at the same rinks, competed in the same tournaments, played ball hockey on the same sleet-pelted tennis courts, and skated on the same frozen ponds. And much as Crosby used to fire pucks into his basement dryer, Nathan shot at a beat-up net with plastic milk jugs hanging off the crossbar for top-shelf targets.

Nathan MacKinnon is not at all like other hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that he just might be the second coming of Sidney Crosby. In fact, MacKinnon is pretty much a clone of the most famous hockey player in the world: so skilled, so dominant, that many insiders already call him the next Sid the Kid. A center — like Crosby — MacKinnon scored goals by the hundreds in the top local leagues that Crosby once ruled. Like Crosby, MacKinnon played with and against players two and three years older, some more than a foot taller. And like Crosby, Nathan had to leave home young to find challenges. Needless to say, both landed at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the hockey powerhouse in Faribault, Minn.

The latest person to point out the parallels between the two is Alex J. Walling of TSN, who also profiled Crosby when he was 14 years old. If MacKinnon’s success so far in his young hockey career (not to mention his regional background) weren’t enough to invite the comparisons, Walling points out that they will probably have the same representation.

The comparisons continue with Crosby having Pat Brisson as his agent.  I’m not sure if midget kids can have agents, so MacKinnon has an “advisor,” the same Pat Brisson.

Obviously, it’s wrong to assume that everything will work out for MacKinnon. A lot can change between now and when he’s draft-eligible, not to mention how far he’d have to go to justify those expectations if he makes it to the NHL.

Still, the startling thing about some of the can’t-miss hockey prospects is that many are identified from a similarly young age. Crosby was obviously one of them while the likes of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and so on dominated at a young age. We’ll have to wait and see if MacKinnon ends up in that group, but he has a long way to go.

Couture wants Sharks to re-sign Thornton, Marleau

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The San Jose Sharks 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night was not only the end of their 2016-17 season, it could have also been the end of an era.

With veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1, their future with the team remains uncertain, and neither one seemed prepared to talk about it in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s defeat.

Sharks forward Logan Couture was asked if he wants to see the two players return next season and made it pretty clear that he does.

“You’re asking a guy who’s played with those guys for eight years,” said Couture, via Paul Gackle of the Mecrury News. “I love those guys. They play hard. If you guys only knew what they play through. The respect level that I have for those two guys is just through the roof.”

There are a number of variables that are going to play a role in whether or not the two leading scorers in franchise history will be back.

Along with their willingness to return is the fact that both players will be entering their age 38 seasons and already showed some signs of slowing down this season. How much cap space are the Sharks going to be willing to invest in the duo when they already have $55.7 million in salary cap space committed to 16 players for next season, especially given their ages.

If this does turn out to be the end for Thornton and/or Marleau in San Jose their time will be remembered more for not winning a Stanley Cup and probably not for how much success they have actually had on the ice, both individually and as a team. Not only have Thornton and Marleau been two of the NHL’s best and most productive players over the past decade, but the Sharks have been one of the NHL’s best teams. Since the 2005-06 season, when Thornton first arrived in San Jose, the Sharks have won a league best 547 regular season games (11 more than the team with the second-most wins, the Pittsburgh Penguins) while their 64 playoff wins are tied for the fourth most (Anaheim Ducks) behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings.

WATCH LIVE: Maple Leafs, Bruins facing elimination on Sunday

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It is a win or go home situation for the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, as both teams enter their respective Game 6s facing elimination in their first-round playoff series’.

The Bruins need to beat the Ottawa Senators to force a Game 7 on Tuesday night, while the Toronto Maple Leafs need a win to extend their series against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals to a decisive seventh game on Wednesday.

Both games will be shown on the NBC Networks and streamed online.

Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

David Krejci out again for Bruins; Matt Beleskey will play

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The Boston Bruins will once again be without forward David Krejci on Sunday afternoon when they face the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed.

It will be the third game that Krejci has missed in the series due to a lower-body injury.

Matt Beleskey, who has only played in two of the first five games of the series, will draw into the lineup in his place.

Krejci’s absence still leaves the Bruins shorthanded as they are still without defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. Cassidy said on Sunday that Krug has resumed skating but is still not ready to return to the lineup.

The Senators have a couple of lineup questions of their own. Forward Viktor Stalberg is a game-time decision, while Guy Boucher is making one change on defense with Chris Wideman coming out of the lineup for Fredrik Claesson.

Kings hire John Stevens as next head coach

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The Los Angeles Kings moved fairly quickly when it comes to replacing Darryl Sutter, and they did not have to go very far to do it.

The Kings announced on Sunday that John Stevens will take over as the team’s next head coach. The team will have a press conference on Monday.

Stevens has been an assistant coach with the Kings since the start of the 2010-11 season and spent four games as an interim head coach with the team during the 2011-12 season after Terry Murray was fired, and before Sutter was hired. Following the arrival of Sutter, Stevens went back to his role as an assistant, remaining in that position until now.

“John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy and specifically how he would implement a strategy to activate our players offensively while maintaining the defensive philosophies we have come to be known for,” general manager Rob Blake said in a statement released by the team.

“I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed. With that said, we believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club. His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward.”

Prior to his time with the Kings, Stevens served as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers between 2006-07 and 2009-10, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007-08 season.

He has a 122-111-34 record as an NHL head coach.

The fact the Kings are promoting from within (something they already did with the general manager role) is a pretty clear sign that even though they are seeking a different direction, they are maybe not quite prepared to go through a complete teardown of the organization.

They have missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and have not won a postseason series since 2014.