Avalanche notes: MacKinnon hopes to have fun

  • Article by: MICHAEL KELLY , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2014 - 6:35 AM

– When Patrick Roy was preparing to backstop the Montreal Canadiens in the 1986 playoffs, star defenseman Larry Robinson walked into the sauna to dispense sound advice to the 20-year-old rookie goaltender.

“When I saw him I said, ‘He’s not coming in for a sauna, he’s coming in to talk to me,’ ” Roy said of the veteran defenseman. “And he said, ‘Hey, kid, all I’m asking is no bad goals.’ And from the first game I was not thinking about winning the Stanley Cup, I was thinking no bad goals and having fun.”

The advice helped. Montreal won the Cup and Roy was the playoff MVP. Now 28 years later, he is the one giving advice to a rookie sensation in center Nathan MacKinnon, and it’s the same message he has delivered to the 18-year-old all season.

“Nate, go and have fun,” Roy said. “He’s been playing hard all year; he’s playing well for us. He’s having an outstanding year. Whatever he’s been doing has been impressive.”

MacKinnon is the presumptive Calder Trophy winner after leading all rookies in assists (39) and points (63). He tied Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson with 24 goals, and his 13-game points streak was the most by an 18-year-old in NHL history.

All that is shoved to the side as the playoffs begin. He can draw on the experience of winning the Memorial Cup with Halifax in Quebec Major Junior last year, but he knows it’ll be a different game when the Avalanche takes on the Wild in Game 1 on Thursday.

“It’s the NHL, it’s really different,” he said. “I can’t sit here and try to relate to it. This is a new experience for sure.”

MacKinnon has been versatile all season. He has logged his most minutes at right wing, but with Matt Duchene expected to miss the first round because of a left knee injury, MacKinnon will move back to his natural position and center the top line. He has developed chemistry with Ryan O’Reilly and P.A. Parenteau, giving Colorado two strong scoring lines.

“It brings speed in the middle, which I like,” Roy said.

MacKinnon has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, who broke in at 19 with Quebec and now is the executive vice president of the Avalanche. Sakic said Wednesday that MacKinnon is further along than Sakic was as a rookie.

“I think he’s advanced in the maturity,” Sakic said. “He’s really grown and learned the game. What I’m most impressed of is we all knew what he could do with the puck and his speed. What he’s learned away from the puck has been very impressive to me.”

Hejda is fine

Defenseman Jan Hejda practiced with the team Wednesday and said he is ready to play Thursday. He wasn’t so sure when he suffered an upper-body injury against Anaheim on Sunday.

“My first feeling on the ice wasn’t good, but then it’s like every other time,” Hejda said. “The first 15 seconds is worse, and then the pain is going out. I’m pretty happy with the result.”

Hejda said he felt better Monday and Tuesday but the team decided to hold him out of practice Tuesday. He worked out on his own and improved enough to take the ice Wednesday.

He will take his usual spot on the top defensive pairing with Erik Johnson and expects a tough matchup with the Wild.

“It’s going to be a battle,” he said.

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