It may seem a bit unfair to choose a 19-year-old for this category, but when you’re a former first overall pick that was awarded the Calder Trophy in your rookie season, and then you go through the dreaded sophomore slump? Well, it makes it a little more fair.
Nathan MacKinnon had just 38 points in 64 games last season. He had 63 points as a rookie in 2013-14.
“The whole team was kind of in a slump,” MacKinnon told the Chronicle Herald in May. “We weren’t playing well and we weren’t scoring. Things started going better for me but then I got hurt so it was kind of the perfect storm. But at the same time, I didn’t play well and do the things out there I think I can.
“It’s one season and sometimes it can be tough when it’s not going the way you want it to, but I try to stay as positive as I can. I’m pretty hard on myself so I’m already looking ahead to trying to prove to myself that I can be an impact player on our team.”
MacKinnon conceded that he was “maybe a little too confident” after his stellar rookie campaign, and that could probably go for his team as a whole. The Avs won the Central Division with 112 points in 2013-14. They regressed badly (some would say predictably), missing the playoffs with just 90 points in 2014-15.
As mentioned, MacKinnon is still just 19 years old. And experience can only be gained through, well, experience.
“Now I know what it’s like to be up and to be down in the NHL so I think that’s something that will be good for me,” he said.
On a final note, it will be interesting to see what position MacKinnon plays next season. Though he was drafted as a center, he’s mostly been a winger in the NHL, typically with Ryan O’Reilly as his center and Gabriel Landeskog as the other winger.
O’Reilly, of course, was traded to Buffalo, replaced in Colorado by Carl Soderberg.
Even if that’s the plan for now, we all know plans can change. MacKinnon has far more upside as a player than Soderberg, and a center can have more impact in all areas of the ice compared to a winger. The challenge for young players like MacKinnon is learning the position, since it comes with more defensive responsibilities.