DENVER (AP) – Ask players around the league who’s the fastest skater in the NHL and the same names come up: Taylor Hall, Michael Grabner, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Cogliano and Carl Hagelin.
Edmonton’s Hall likes the speed of New York Islanders’ Grabner, but he mentioned another player without hesitation.
“Nathan MacKinnon,” Hall said of the young Colorado Avalanche player. “When we played against him last year, he took off at one point during the game and I’d never seen anything like that.”
MacKinnon, last year’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year with 24 goals and 39 assists, might be the best combination of speed and skill since Pavel Bure.
Hall believes if he raced against MacKinnon and Grabner, which could happen at the All-Star skills competition in Columbus in January, the 19-year-old budding Avalanche star would win.
But Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog pointed out another aspect of MacKinnon’s speed that makes him so dangerous.
“I go another step and say he’s the fastest skater in the league with the puck,” Landeskog said. “It’s easy to be fast without the puck, but when you have the puck, it’s a completely different thing. That’s what Nate does so well.”
Landeskog spent his first three NHL seasons playing with former Avalanche center Paul Stastny, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Landeskog said Stastny is adapt at slowing the game down to make plays, but what MacKinnon does so well is think and play the game at full speed.
“That’s what the best players do,” Landeskog said. “They’re a step ahead and I think when it comes to Nate, when you’re able to move at a high pace and stickhandle at the same time and make moves at the same time, that’s when it’s hard on defensemen.”
MacKinnon, who will face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday at Air Canada Centre, isn’t eager to dissect his own game. But he knows he needs quick speed bursts to be successful.
“Obviously, I think my speed is my biggest strength, for sure my skating or whatever,” he said. “I think when you get the puck you’re always so excited, you have a little extra jump in your step.”
MacKinnon showed off his speed when he raced against Canadian gold-medal speedskater Charles Hamelin in a promotional skate video. In the 50-foot race from blue line to blue line, MacKinnon beat Hamelin with a time of 2.5 seconds.
In past skills competitions, players have raced a lap around the outside of the rink. Mike Gartner set the record of 13.386 seconds in 1996, which Hagelin of the New York Rangers broke (13.218) at the last event in Ottawa in 2012.
MacKinnon, Hall and Grabner could challenge that in a few months. But MacKinnon is concerned about speed with the puck on his stick when it matters.
“In the game, though, it’s always different,” he said.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)