It's a story that plays out often in the NHL but rarely gets attention: two players who shared close ties during their days in junior hockey, facing off as opponents.
Yet, how often is that meeting between two players who not only won the Memorial Cup together (the Canadian Hockey League's title tournament for junior teams), but who were also two of the most sought-after prospects of the NHL entry draft that year? As in guys who would be selected in the top-3?
Nathan MacKinnon was taken first overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 NHL entry draft; Jonathan Drouin went third to the Tampa Bay Lightning. MacKinnon and Drouin had each had incredible seasons in the QMJHL in 2013 with the Halifax Mooseheads (MacKinnon: 32 goals, 43 assists in 44 games; Drouin: 41 goals, 64 assists in 49 games) but the diverged after the draft.
MacKinnon's place in Denver with the Avs was in place before his selection in the draft. Drouin, on the other hand, got introduced to the weight of depth in the system nicknamed Tampacuse; he ended up returned to junior hockey for another season.
MacKinnon, with hype of his long term projections since the draft helping him as well as his overall performance last season (24 goals, 29 assists in 82 games) helped secure him the NHL's Calder Award for the league's top rookie. The top runner's up were the depth that kept Drouin out of Tampa last season (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat).
It's funny how things change in a season. Though Drouin is not living up to any of the preseason hype about production and being a 2015 Calder candidate, he's made it to the NHL and is producing. 2 goals, 16 assists, a learning-to-play-responsible process that's seen him take many shifts with lower line players as well as that NHL-debut-delaying broken thumb that canceled his preseason.
And yet Drouin's only 7 points behind his former teammate, in 10 less games-played. MacKinnon has six more goals than Drouin (8 as to 2), but only a single assist more. Drouin and Mac have two different roles on two different teams; it's just rather odd that the production of Drouin is so close to MacKinnon. Drouin has bounced around in the bottom-six more often than not while has averaged 13:24 minutes of ice time a game this season. MacKinnon plays top-line right wing and averages 16:39 of ice time.
More games, more minutes, a more central role... Barely more productive. Maybe it's just a testament of how bad Colorado is at the moment, and how deep the production opportunities run in Tampa? Whatever the case, a stat projection gives the notion that Nathan MacKinnon will soon resume his production with the Avalanche. Hopefully that production eruption doesn't begin Saturday night against the Lightning.