Declaring your team's most important player is not a simple thing. It's not always the most valuable guy or the highest points producer. It is the player who makes your team go -- the one you can't afford to lose, even if all he contributes can't be measured by fancy stats.
Avalanche's Most Important Player: Nathan MacKinnon, Forward
The 2013 first overall pick was sensational in his rookie season, having an immediate impact for the Colorado Avalanche and helping to orchestrate a stunning about-face that had the Avs go from 29th in 2012-13 to a playoff team in the matter of a calendar year.
MacKinnon locked up the Calder Trophy with his impressive rookie season, finishing 2013-14 with 24 goals and 39 assists. What was perhaps the most impressive element of his entrance to the NHL was how much trust he gained from coach Patrick Roy early on, as he was used in late-game situations and on the power play.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native had a bit of a sophomore slump last season, though he was sidelined for significant time with a foot injury and played only 64 games for the Avs, finishing with 14 goals and 28 points. Part of that dip in production was indicative of the team’s struggles as a whole, as the Avs regressed and missed the playoffs. And let’s not forget that MacKinnon was plagued by an unsightly 6.33 percent shooting percentage, which seems like a fluke more than anything. The good news is he was still creating chances, finishing fifth overall in shots per 60 minutes (11.01) among those who played more than 200 minutes, according to hockeyanalysis.com.
With Mackinnon set to enter training camp healthy, his production will be essential this season, especially given the departure of two-way center Ryan O'Reilly. Though MacKinnon has played primarily on the wing since joining the Avs, center is his natural position, so he could provide flexibility for Colorado depending on how things shake out with the rest of their lineup.
Matt Duchene figures to slot in as the No. 1 center, with the Avs hopeful that newcomers Carl Soderberg and Mikhail Grigorenko can fill important roles down the middle as well. The Avs already know they can count on last season’s leading scorer, veteran winger Jarome Iginla, for production (he had 29 goals and 59 points) and for Gabriel Landeskog to be a key contributor.
If MacKinnon can have another monster year like his rookie season, the Avs again will be one of the most dynamic, exciting teams to watch. One of the keys will be for him to generate more on the power play, where he was largely ineffective last season. The Avs finished second to last on the man-advantage, so it’s a glaring sore spot heading into this season and an area for MacKinnon to improve greatly.