Colorado Avalanche Using Pittsburgh Penguins' Path To Building Winner

By Anthony Murphy
Nathan MacKinnon
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of people, including myself, were curious regarding the Colorado Avalanche selecting Nathan MacKinnon first overall. Nothing against MacKinnon, but with the Av’s surplus of depth at center, and stud defensive-prospect Seth Jones also available, it was believed Jones was the logical choice.

Throw in Jones’ personal ties to Colorado, it made the move that much more interesting. Colorado saw MacKinnon as the man they wanted to build around, and wasted no time making it public well before the draft.

In all honesty, they couldn’t lose with either pick.

But, no matter how deep they feel the most previous draft was, like most drafts, until the results translate to a NHL surface it remains a roll of the dice. Taking the best player available is always the way to go.

When a team attempts to build a winning franchise, capable of repeated success, they tend to build one of two ways, ‘down the middle’ or ‘defense and goaltending’. Both are critical to have if you want to win a championship but teams tend to invest heavily into one aspect or another.

Look at the Chicago Blackhawks. While they have Jonathan Toews, they aren’t nearly built down the middle as some teams are, and they have managed to win two cups in the last four seasons. They have won because they draft right. They also have one of the deepest defensive groups in the league, and had Corey Crawford has come into his own during the playoffs last season.

You can’t argue with the results there.

Building ‘down the middle’ has also yielded good return. The San Jose Sharks currently have a trio of centers that most teams could only dream of. But, before the Sharks, another team invested heavily into centers and the return was the Stanley Cup only three years after the last of the three was drafted.

For three consecutive seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted a center with the first round pick and all three were either the first or second overall pick. Starting with Evgeni Malkin in 2005, he was followed by Sidney Crosby in 2005 and Jordan Staal in 2006. Having any one of those three and your team has a good chance to compete; throw all three together, and you have a team that becomes one of the more difficult to play against.

The three were so different in their playing style, which made them so perfect to put on a team together. They gelled and came together, and the rest is history as they say, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Fast forward to now. The Avalanche are in a similar position with MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Rielly, who have all experienced success in the NHL, even in the brief window as it has been with MacKinnon. Having such a surplus has even forced the Av’s to play one of them at winger (O’Rielly).

While the Avalanche will not be able to keep all of them, as Stastny is a pending free agent, and O’Rielly already appears to have one foot out the door after last year restricted free agent fiasco, they are enjoying success now together as an unit. If they keep their current play up, they will be a factor all season long.

MacKinnon was compared to Crosby throughout all of the pre-draft coverage, mainly due to the fact that they both reside from the hometown, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. But the comparisons could go deeper than that. Maybe MacKinnon will be able to leading a group of extremely talented centers to the promised land.

The Avalanche and Penguins matchup is Monday night at 7:30 pm on NBC Sports. It is one of the more intriguing early-season games the NHL has to offer. It could very well be a quick look into the future for the young Av’s team.

Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.

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