Jeremy Roenick really started taking notice of Nathan MacKinnon six months ago.
On the advice of a friend, the nine-time NHL all-star, turned say-it-like-it-is NHL broadcaster, decided to see what the fuss was all about.
He needed just a few game clips of the Halifax Mooseheads phenom.
Roenick was hooked.
“I love the way he plays the game,” said Roenick of the Cole Harbour hockey star. “I like where he goes, the high traffic areas and he does it with so much speed. Obviously, he’s a great talent; he’s got great hands. He has got a very gifted mind for the game.
“But he goes into those tough areas with fearless abandon. You can see his desire to score goals and when you can combine talent with that grit and tenacity you’re going to have a complete hockey player, and he seems to be just that.”
It’s only been in the last month or so, before and after MacKinnon was selected No.1 by the Colorado Avalanche at the NHL draft, that Roenick has been hearing the comparisons that so many scouts, fans and reporters have been making between him, the third highest American scorer in NHL history, and the reigning Memorial Cup MVP.
Yes, Roenick, known as much for his fearless play as his nose for the net, sees a lot of himself in MacKinnon, from his tenacious two-way play, to his superior hockey I.Q,, right down to MacKinnon’s skating stride.
“He’s got a very cool, long stride, not too hunched over, his posture’s very similar to mine… I hope he has the ferocity that I had and lays a lot of shoulders into opposing players, because that’s a big part of the game now.”
And, by the way, Roenick doesn’t mind the comparisons.
“That’s a great compliment to me because the kid is truly, truly impressive and I really hope he has a great career.”
A former first-round, eighth overall pick, Roenick can relate to the unyielding expectation and pressure MacKinnon will face in his rookie year.
“He has to go in there and demand respect but he has to do it in a quiet way,” he said. “He needs to listen, to try to impress people with his grit, his work ethic and with his ability to learn. Guys in the dressing will see how much you talk and how much you listen. On the ice, if someone gets in his face he has to give it right back.”
But Roenick has no doubt that MacKinnon will adapt and thrive.
The fact that he’s going to a young Avalanche team under the guidance of two NHL legends – head coach Patrick Roy and executive vice president Joe Sakic – will work to ease the transition.
“Staying there and making a name for yourself is the hard part,” said Roenick. “I think he’s going to have a good year. Patrick will let him be Nathan, who is creative, and be himself but be responsible at the same time.
“But only Nathan has the ability to show people how rare he is. He’ll do that.”