MacKinnon humbled by new contract; feels pressure to win

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic can cross off the highest priority item off his ‘to do’ list this offseason. The team has signed restricted free agent Nathan MacKinnon to a seven year, $44.1-million contract.

In his post-signing conference call with reporters, the 20-year-old MacKinnon seemed humbled by the contract he earned.

“Honestly, it was very weird signing it today,” said MacKinnon. “I hesitated before I sent it back … just thinking about where I’m from and that kind of money is just crazy to me. But I’m very lucky, and I know I’m very fortunate.”

At the same time, he realizes that big money brings big expectations, ones he’s ready to perform to.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove in this league,” said MacKinnon. “I can take my game to a whole other level … I’m really excited to show that next season, especially with this new contract … there is a lot of pressure to perform and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of that.”

Through the draft lottery, the Avalanche landed the first overall pick in 2013. There was some speculation at the time that the team would take defenseman Seth Jones. Not only was he the top rated North American prospect, his father, Popeye, had ties to the Denver after playing with the Denver Nuggets.

However, as the draft drew closer, Sakic made it clear he wasn’t targeting Jones and said it would be either MacKinnon, Alexander Barkov, or Jonathan Drouin at first overall. They went with MacKinnon and the rest, as they say, is history.

MacKinnon entered his first training camp in 2013 with the Avs having just turned 18-years-old on September 1. The rookie made the big team out of camp and played in all 82 games for Colorado. He finished the second fourth on the team in goals (24), fourth in points (63) and second in power play goals (8).  He collected a Calder Trophy at season’s end as the top rookie in the league.

The center hit the dreaded sophomore slump the following year. He scored 14 goals and 24 assists in 64 games. MacKinnon missed the final 18 games of the regular season after fracturing his foot.

He returned for a third season back in the form people expected of him. MacKinnon was third on the Avalanche in goals (21), total points (52), and power play goals (7). An MCL sprain caused him to miss the last 10 games of the season.

The center is from Halifax, Nova Scotia near the ancestral manse of Sidney Crosby in Cole Harbour.

Crosby has become an important figure in the career of MacKinnon. When he was drafted, MacKinnon remarked that Sid was his favorite player while growing up (he was born in 1995 and played in the QMJHL, like Sid) and was even to that day.

MacKinnon frequently referenced ‘taking his game to another level’ in his fourth year in the NHL. When asked to expand on what that meant, he looked to Crosby’s experience this past year to explain his point.

“I’ve had some great moments. I’ve had some down moments. Just kind of balancing all that out,” said MacKinnon. “It’s a roller coaster ride. You start slow, you can get hot. If you start hot, you can cool down, but you have to even it all out. I think a good example is what Sid did this year. People thought he was over-the-hill, he was done, and then he’s up for the Hart and wins the Conn Smythe. It’s pretty amazing.”

He and Crosby have become buddies as they work out together in the offseason. The plan remains the same for this offseason. MacKinnon stated he and Crosby will be training together “a little bit” before both head off to their respective training camps for the World Cup.

Last offseason, the two teamed up to play pranks on people at Tim Horton’s while working the drive-thru. MacKinnon laughed as he was asked about if his days at Timmy’s were over, “I don’t think so. I might actually make another appearance later this summer.”

As for celebrating his new contract, MacKinnon remained as laser focused as his workout buddy. “[I’m] going to dinner with my parents and a couple friends. Nothing too crazy … I’m getting ready for next season.”

Based on the $6.3-million average annual value of the contract MacKinnon is now the highest paid player on the Avalanche. Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson are tied for second at $6-million, per General Fanager. To say he’s a key piece in the future of the franchise is an understatement.

From the Avalanche release:

“Signing Nathan to a long-term contract was a priority this offseason,” said Avalanche executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic. “He is going to be a key part of our team for many years to come and it was important to secure his rights moving forward.”

MacKinnon understands the expectations the franchise has placed upon him by giving him this big contract, but his outlook remains positive.

“The pressure [to win] has definitely risen since signing this,” said MacKinnon. “They’re making it a point that they want me to help get us back to the Cup. That’s the whole goal behind this. I really think that the players we have, the young guys we have, the veterans, we have a very good mix.

“It’s been a disappointing couple of seasons, but I truly believe we’re going to be a very strong team and a contender for years to come.”