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Why Nathan MacKinnon Will Score 30 Goals for the Avalanche Next Season

Austin Manak Avatar
August 28, 2015


The Colorado Avalanche haven’t had a 30-goal scorer in many moons. In fact, no player has hit the 30-goal milestone while playing in burgundy and blue since Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk both broke the barrier in 2006-07.

That season, Joe Sakic also reached 100 points, the last Avalanche player to hit triple digits in overall scoring.

Scoring goals has gotten progressively harder in the NHL over the years. In the early 90s, when I first started watching hockey as a young grasshopper, teams regularly averaged over three goals-per-game. During the 1992-93 season, the average NHL hockey game featured 7.25 goals-per-game between the combatants (3.63 goals per team).

As the late 90s and turn of the millennia hit, those numbers were suffocated by the clutch-and-grab era which dominated the NHL. By the 2003-04 season, a measly 5.14 goals per game were being scored. Goaltenders such as Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek revolutionized the position during their careers, and defenders were literally afforded the opportunity to practically tackle the game’s elite playmakers and scorers. Hard to score from your butt, unless you’re Peter Forsberg.

In those days, when you scored a goal, you kept the puck. You didn’t know when the next one was coming…

After the lockout, rule changes were implemented to prevent the clutch-and-grab techniques that prevailed previously, and in turn, scoring picked up. In 2005-06, scoring spiked to 6.05 goals per game, which is the highest it has been since. The Avalanche had a pair of 30-goal scorers, Joe Sakic and Marek Svatos, who each finished the season with 32 lamp-lighters.

The Avalanche had back-to-back seasons with a pair of 30-goal scorers back when Pierre Turgeon was on the roster, Daniel Powter’s Bad Day topped the Billboard Top 100 music charts, and the New Horizons probe was being launched on its journey to Pluto, but since then… Nada. Zilch. No biscuit. For nearly a decade, the 30-goal column has been empty in Colorado.

NHL goaltenders are continually getting bigger, more technical, and more athletic. Save-percentages are trending up, and defensive schemes are once again dominating the game. Last season, 5.32 goals-per-game were scored in the NHL, which is about what it has been for the last four seasons. Only 15 players scored at least 30 goals last year, led by Alex Ovechkin, who potted 53. Rick Nash (43) and Steven Stamkos (42) were the only other 40-goal scorers.

In today’s NHL, 30-goal scorers are a dying breed, and it takes a special player to reach the milestone. Enter Nathan MacKinnon, the drought-buster — Not to be confused with Ryan O’Reilly, the draught-buster.

New Horizon has traveled over 3.o billion millions, and reached its destination. Take away the decimal, factor in Nathan MacKinnon, and you’re looking at a new horizon for the Avalanche’s young star — 30 goals. The made-up math checks out, trust me.

I’m going to boldly predict Nathan MacKinnon to score at least 30-goals next season. Like most people, I enjoy being right, so this prediction isn’t made on a whim. If I’m going to be “bold” I really don’t want to be bold at all. I want the deck to be stacked in my favor. I’ve dug up some numbers as to why Avalanche fans should confidently pencil in 30 goals for MacKinnon, thus breaking the Avalanche’s 30-goal scorer drought and giving MacKinnon the breakout season we all thought was scheduled for a year ago.


First, let’s take a look at MacKinnon’s even strength shot totals from a year ago. MacKinnon ranked 7th in the entire NHL, with 11.01 shots per 60 minutes at even strength last year. While far from a perfect correlation, guys who score a lot of goals tend to get a lot of rubber on net. Rick Nash led the league with 13.50 shots/60 at even strength, and he was 2nd in the NHL with 43 goals. Coincidence? Probably not.

Max Pacioretty, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, and Zach Parise all finished top-ten in NHL goal scoring, and they all averaged over 10 shots per 60 minutes at even strength. Including Rick Nash, six of the top-ten goal scorers in the NHL last season were in the top-35 at even strength shot generation.

Obviously, not all high volume shooters are elite goal scorers, but a lot of elite goal scorers are high volume shooters. For MacKinnon, his ability to generate shots, especially at even strength, is a foundation upon which his goal scoring can be built.

Coupled with shot generation is shooting percentage, at least when it comes to scoring a lot of goals. This has been a limiting factor for MacKinnon’s goal output early in his career. Overall, MacKinnon sits at 8.8% shooting for his career, including a disappointing 7.3% last season — without a doubt, both of those numbers should go up next season.

For comparison, I’m going to list some other NHL players and their career shooting percentage, just to get a feel for where MacKinnon could potentially end up: Alex Ovechkin (12.4%), Sidney Crosby (14.4%), Steven Stamkos (17.2%), John Tavares (13.0%), Matt Duchene (11.8%), Ryan O’Reilly (10.2%), Alex Tanguay (18.9%), Joe Sakic (13.5%).

League average in the NHL was 8.9% last year (including defensemen, fourth liners, and Marc-Andre Cliche), and Nathan MacKinnon is not your league average player. Brief aside, poor Cliche has 3 career goals on 137 shots. Yowza.

Matt Duchene has seemed perennially snake-bitten with his shooting percentage, thanks to a large number of could-have-been goals that clanked iron, but he’s still nearly a 12% shooter. Ryan O’Reilly is far from a pure goal scorer, but his career shooting percentage is still higher than MacKinnon’s career high for a single season.

The players listed above are all very different stylistically, but they also represent some of the game’s elite talent. MacKinnon is an elite talent, and those guys are consistent bets to end up in the 10-15% shooting range every single season. MacKinnon will probably never put up elite sniper numbers like Steven Stamkos, but if things go his way for a season, he could easily top 15% shooting.

The final piece to this puzzle is the Colorado Avalanche power play. Last season, MacKinnon only scored three goals when the Avs had a man-advantage, a phenomena examined here earlier this offseason. I expect MacKinnon to play a significant role in an improved Avalanche power play next season, which should supplement his goal totals.

The addition of Nikita Zadorov, Carl Soderberg, and Mikhail Grigorenko increase the talent level at Patrick Roy’s disposal on the power play, as well as the continued emergence of Tyson Barrie. Losing Ryan O’Reilly will hurt the Avalanche in many aspects, but let’s be honest, the power play probably isn’t one of them.

Just how many goals will MacKinnon score?

Overall, MacKinnon put up 2.93 shots-per-game in his rookie year and 3.0 shots-per-game in his sophomore year. Interestingly, he reached those similar totals in very different ways. His even strength shot per 60 minute generation increased from 9.16 to 11.01, however, his power play shooting opportunities took a significant hit, dropping from 15.6 to 8.31 shots per 60.

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen--Getty Images
Iginla and MacKinnon, Credit: Christian Petersen–Getty Images

On the power play, Jarome Iginla seemed to get a lot of the shots and set plays that MacKinnon got in his rookie year, and Gabriel Landeskog also took on a much more active role last season. It’s up to Roy to get MacKinnon more involved on the power play this upcoming season. MacKinnon needs to be putting up at least 15 shots per 60 minutes on the power play, and he needs to be playing a lot of minutes with the man-advantage.

MacKinnon scored 8 goals during his rookie year on the power play, so I’ll say he gets 8-10 goals next season. Anything in double-digits is a luxury, but it’s certainly possible if MacKinnon and the Avalanche power play get into a rhythm. Only 19 players managed to get to double-digit power play goals last season.

To get 20+ even strength goals, MacKinnon will likely need to average at least 10 shots per 60 minutes while playing five-on-five hockey again next season. If he replicates last season’s rate of shooting and gets the same number of minutes, MacKinnon will end up right around 200 shots on goal. A modest 10% shooting, and bingo, he gets his 20 even strength goals.

I’m going to predict MacKinnon to end up at 190 even strength shots on goal, with a much higher ratio of those being quality scoring chances relative to last season. MacKinnon will still be a volume shooter, but is also more experienced and should be wiser with his shot selection and more capable of getting shots in prime-time scoring areas.

The power play is the big wild-card. I’m confident that MacKinnon and the Avalanche will have a bounce back year with the man-advantage. I predict MacKinnon to end up with 60 shots on the power play next year (an increase over the 50 he had in his rookie year).

Throw in a handful of 4-on-4, 3-on-3, and shorthanded shots, let’s say 15, and MacKinnon is looking at 265 shots next season (he piled up 241 shots during his rookie season). 265 shots would have been good for the 11th most shots in the league last year, which is a reasonable total for the former first-overall selection.

It would require 11.3% shooting to hit 30 goals if MacKinnon reaches my predicted shot totals, which is a percentage I believe MacKinnon is very likely to shoot. In fact, I think he’s due (although I really don’t believe in things like that) to shoot an even higher percentage.

Last season, MacKinnon had expectations and perhaps a smidgen of overconfidence entering the season, which translated into frustration when the points weren’t coming. This year, MacKinnon should be much better prepared to handle the ups and downs of an NHL season, and primed to play at his full potential on a more consistent basis. To me, this will cause his “luck” to be much more favorable.

This is the year of the MacKinnon. He’s going to play with confidence, live up to the hype, and score a lot of goals next season. Count on it.

Other candidates to score 30 goals

Recent history suggests the Avalanche will be lucky to get one 30-goal scorer, and I’m all in on MacKinnon. History also suggests, 30-goal scorers may come in pairs in Colorado. If the Avs’ offense catches fire next season, here’s a trio of candidates who could join MacKinnon in 30-goal glory.

Jarome Iginla – This one is obvious, right? Iginla scored 29 goals last season, his first with the Avalanche, which broke a string of 12 consecutive 30-goal non-lockout seasons. In fact, Iginla has scored at least 28 goals over his last 15 full seasons.

Iginla is probably slowing down a bit at this point in his career, but his release and shot are as prime as they ever were. My gut says he falls just short of 30, but the veteran should easily chip in 25 goals.

Gabriel Landeskog – The Captain took a while to get going last season, and his Avalanche followed suit. Late in the year, the young Swede was a force to be reckoned with, and started showcasing his ability to be a dominant power forward in the NHL.

Gabriel  Landeskog, Credit: Doug Pessinger--Getty Images
Gabriel Landeskog, Credit: Doug Pessinger–Getty Images

Landeskog’s career high 26 goals came in the Avalanche’s magical 2013-14 season, and his sweet spot seems to be the mid 20s. That said, he figures to play a ton of minutes next year, at 22 years old he is still trending up toward his prime, and he is one of the Avs’ top possession players. If he can find early chemistry with some of the Avalanche’s elite playmakers, 30 goals is well within his reach.

I get the feeling Landeskog is going to be a man on a mission next season to get this team back in the playoffs, so after MacKinnon, I would give him the highest odds to reach 30 goals.

Matt Duchene – Colorado’s golden boy has incredible talent, speed, slick stick skills, and he has worked his tail off to become one of the hardest Avalanche players to strip of the puck down low. I think Duchene struggles at times to decide if he wants to play like a playmaking set-up guy, or be a goal scorer, and he hasn’t been helped by a continual revolving door on his wings.

Duchene hitting 30 goals is continent on a few things: He needs to commit to looking to score more often, he needs more consistent offensive threats on his wings, and he honestly needs a little bit of puck luck. Duchene scored a career high 27 goals in his second season in the NHL, following up on a 24 goal performance his rookie season, which remain his two highest goal scoring seasons in his career.

I’d say Duchene is a long-shot, and he’s much more likely to pile up points in the assist column. Peter Forsberg was one of the Avalanche superstars Duchene watched growing up, and Forsberg scored exactly 30 goals only twice in his career. At times, Duchene reminds me a little bit of Forsberg when he spins and jukes down low, and I also believe Duchene is at his best when he’s setting up his teammates, just like Forsberg.

Stats used courtesy of NHL.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com





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