DENVER -- Oct. 2, 2013, will mark a night of firsts for the Colorado Avalanche. It will be the NHL head-coaching debut of Hall of Fame netminder Patrick Roy. It will also mark the first NHL game for June’s No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon.
Surrounded by reporters in the Avalanche dressing room after the team’s morning skate Wednesday, MacKinnon betrayed none of the jitters he said he knows he’ll get just before game time.
“I’m going to get something. I know I will for sure. I’ll get a couple of butterflies, but nothing that’s going to distract me,” he said. “For now, I’m just anxious. I can’t wait for the puck drop.”
Unlike many rookies, including his former teammate in Halifax Jonathan Drouin, who was selected third overall but sent back to juniors by the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier in the week, MacKinnon has been assured of a spot in the Avs lineup from the get-go.
“I think it does make it easier for sure. But at the same time, I think it makes it a little more expectations for myself," said MacKinnon, who turned 18 a month ago. "Since I am going to be here, I’m supposed to be a contributor and make a difference every night."
Part of the adjustment to life as an NHL player has been eased by MacKinnon's moving into netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere's basement.
The two carpool to and from practice and games. Giguere’s wife is from MacKinnon’s hometown of Halifax, so there’s a connection. And there are three small boys who have enjoyed having MacKinnon around as well.
“Actually, one time I wrestled with all three of them, so now every time they see me they scream and they always want to fight and wrestle. I guess that’s my job with them,” MacKinnon said.
Diapers, however, are not part of MacKinnon’s job description. When the youngest cries, MacKinnon immediately flees the room, he said.
Although dogged by a minor injury in camp, MacKinnon has proved he belongs. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who saw him in preseason, said Wednesday he thinks MacKinnon will be a great player, and Roy praised MacKinnon’s work ethic in camp and how he improved as the exhibition season went along.
Roy said he’s been especially impressed by MacKinnon’s ability to shake off mistakes or times when he hasn’t played particularly well.
“He’s a very humble person, but at the same time, even if things didn’t go the way he wanted, he was very resilient in his battles,” Roy said. “That pleased me a lot because it’s not always going to be easy.”
Penner left out
One noticeable absence from the Anaheim lineup Wednesday night will be Dustin Penner, who had been penciled in to play with top offensive players Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf but his level of play wasn’t where the coaching staff wanted it to be.
It’s a not-so-subtle message that the free-agent signee has to be better to fulfill the significant expectations the team has for him.
“I just think you have to reward certain people for having good training camps and you have to make a point, if you don’t have a great training camp this isn’t just given to you, everything’s given to you. So that was the case,” Boudreau said. “In Dustin’s defense, the last 10 days he’s worked extremely hard. He’s not quite where he wants to be, but he’s getting closer, a lot closer than when he first came into camp.”
Penner’s place in the lineup will be taken, at least temporarily, by 6-foot-3 winger Patrick Maroon.
“At this stage, Maroon earned the first game,” Boudreau said.