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Nathan MacKinnon declared himself fit on Saturday.
And with that self-diagnosis (and probably a lot of input from team doctors), the Colorado Avalanche superstar will return to the lineup on Sunday when the Edmonton Oilers come to town.
MacKinnon has missed eight games with an upper-body injury, going down at a time when the Avalanche were thriving off his impressive play.
The former No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft left second in NHL scoring with 61 points, although he’s fallen a bit behind now, sitting in 16th spot.
More importantly, MacKinnon’s play had him in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, and despite missing eight games, could likely put himself right back there if he can lead the Avs to a playoff spot.
Colorado was 4-4-0 without MacKinnon, including an ugly 6-1 defeat away to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
“A hundred percent, I feel good,” MacKinnon told NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski on Saturday. “My trainers did a great job getting me ready, getting me healthy quickly, so I’m good.”
The Avs get their All-Star back at a time they need him most. Colorado sits three points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 25 games to play.
“You get your best player back, it’s positive, no question” Colorado coach Jared Bednar told Sadowski. “He drives our offense in a lot of ways, 5-on-5, power play. We need him back, but we can’t just rely on Nate. It’s not just going to magically turn around here in our favor just because he’s back in our lineup.”
The Avs also found out that Alexander Kerfoot is a quality young center within their organization.
“He’s been pretty good,” Bednar said from Winnipeg on Friday. “It’s a big hole to fill, a big job playing in that No. 1 spot. For a young guy coming in an elevating his game as the year goes on, I think he’s been pretty good. He’s learning on the go a little bit. He’s faced some real tough matchups, he’s still finding a way to chip in a little bit offensively and, for the most part, done a nice job defensively as well.
“We’re pretty happy with what he’s done.”
On Friday, before his team’s walloping, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog told NHL.com’s Tim Campbell that he felt his team had what it takes to make the playoffs, without the need to bring in any more talent at the trade deadline.
“I think for us, first and foremost, we’re focused on winning hockey games,” Landeskog said. “The trade deadline is what it is. We’re a team that’s pushing to get in and we’re just on the outside looking in right now and we’re focused on winning games. I believe with the team we have, we’re good enough to make the playoffs. We haven’t been favored by too many people to make the playoffs, but as long as the guys in here believe, I think we can do it.”
Whether they need help or not is certainly debatable, but Landeskog also said he believes any moves that general manager Joe Sakic would make would be minor. The thrashing they received at the hands of the Jets on Friday would suggest they need to do more than just stand pat.
But the injection of MacKinnon could act as a quasi-acquisition in its own right.
The Avs have a lot to do if they’re going to emerge out of the toughest division in the NHL. Getting MacKinnon back for the stretch drive can only help.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck