Nathan MacKinnon’s speed, skill and breakaway moves have led to his fair share of Sports Centre highlight clips already this season. But it’s his less glamorous work in the faceoff circle that might be the most improved aspect of his game.
The 17-year-old Halifax Mooseheads centre has put in hours of work to improve in the circle after winning just 45.7 per cent of his faceoffs as a QMJHL rookie. Through seven games, that percentage has skyrocketed to 63.7, third in the league.
That’s a big deal — for scouts and for MacKinnon, who had a bad period in the faceoff circle recently and noticed what a difference it made.
“It just felt like we never had the puck,” said MacKinnon, who usually plays on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Stefan Fournier. “I think it’s very important starting off with the puck. The three of us are pretty good at moving the puck around and as long as we can get that puck and keep it, good things are going to happen.”
MacKinnon has been something of a sponge when it comes to improving in the circle, soaking up pointers from those who are best at it.
He received advice from Mooseheads teammate Brent Andrews, a Nashville Predators pick who is one of the best in the QMJHL with close to a 60 per cent win rate over the past two seasons.
Andrews shared a video he received from the Predators that features clips of the NHL’s best faceoff men and MacKinnon has watched it several times.
Beyond that, MacKinnon skated with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby this summer in the Halifax area and got a chance to go head-to-head with one of the NHL’s best.
“You try to take advantage of skating with Sid as much as you can — we practised draws a little bit after skates sometimes,” MacKinnon said. “I just kind of watched him and how he does it.
“All those little things really helped. I just kind of figured it out.”
MacKinnon trails only Baie-Comeau Drakkar ace Felix Girard (66 per cent) and Chicoutimi Sagueneens import Lukas Sedlak (64.7). He could be in that stratosphere to stay.
“So far, so good, obviously,” MacKinnon said. “There are a lot of good centremen in this league and hopefully I can continue winning them.”
CATS AND MOOSE
The Mooseheads, 6-1 and on a four-game winning streak, host the Moncton Wildcats, 3-4, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Right-winger Ryan Falkenham will return to the lineup from an upper body injury. Leading scorer Jonathan Drouin is “day-to-day” with an apparent shoulder injury while right-winger Martin Frk will sit with a one-game suspension for slew-footing.