January 2, 2011
The next Next One?MacKinnon compared to Crosby
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
It’s safe to say he’s the only player in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge who has been featured in ESPN The Magazine.
He is also the only player in the event who gets compared to Sidney Crosby, although there are a few more connections to Sid the Kid than only hockey.
Meet Nathan MacKinnon, the Team Atlantic centre whom some are calling the next Crosby.
“We talked to his coach before the selection of the World Under-17, and his coach told us — and he’d be the best judge — that he’s the best player he’s had since Sidney at Shattuck-St. Mary’s,” Team Atlantic coach Greg Leland said. “So I guess that speaks to his ability.”
MacKinnon draws many parallels to Crosby simply because of geography, but that’s nowhere near the whole story. MacKinnon hails from Dartmouth, N.S., which neighbours Crosby’s hometown of Cole Harbour. MacKinnon’s house is five minutes from Crosby’s childhood home, and they both played in the same minor hockey system.
Throw in the fact MacKinnon has speed to burn, soft hands and a shot that is better than those of kids a year or two older than him, and the comparisons with the Pittsburgh Penguins centre are easy.
“It’s flattering, but it puts a lot of pressure on me and at times it can be a little overwhelming,” said MacKinnon, who naturally worships Crosby. “But I guess I’ll just take it as a compliment.”
MacKinnon, who turned 15 in September, is the second-youngest player in the Under-17 tournament, but he was third in scoring with five goals and three assists in four games going into Sunday night’s action.
MacKinnon, who had 200 points in 50 games as an atom, played at the AAA bantam level in Cole Harbour when he was 12 years old — against boys who were more than two years his senior — and said he piled up 110 points.
“I was about 5-feet playing against 6-footers,” MacKinnon said. “But I was on a great team. We won everything in our region. I had great linemates, so I just contributed and did my role.”
After registering 145 points in 35 games as a 13-year-old, MacKinnon, like Crosby, moved on to Faribault, Minn., to play for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, where he had 101 points in 58 games with its top bantam team last winter. This season he is averaging more than two points a game for its under-16 squad — the second-best mark on the team despite being its second-youngest player.
The World Under-17 in Winnipeg, meanwhile, is MacKinnon’s first real international competition, so he was kind of curious to see how he would stack up over the last week. He has proven that the hype was legitimate.
“This is his coming out party, for sure,” Leland said.
Local hockey fans who have yet to see MacKinnon in action can do so on Monday night in Portage when Team Atlantic meets Team West in the fifth-place game at 7:30.
Then again, if you miss him this time around, it’s a good bet he’ll be back next year when the tournament is held in Manitoba once again. Just don’t expect to see the second coming of Crosby.
“It’s nice to be compared to him,” MacKinnon said, “but I just want to play my own game — not Sidney Crosby’s.”