Ten weeks after being selected No. 1 overall at the June draft, Nathan MacKinnon finally got his first taste of an NHL practice.
MacKinnon is one of 29 players participating in the Colorado Avalanche's three-day rookie camp, which began Sunday and goes until Tuesday at the South Suburban Family Sports Center.
The 18-year-old said it was great to finally be on the ice with other Avalanche players, especially after the team didn't hold any on-ice workouts at its July development camp.
"It was a lot of fun, being together with the guys and trying and get a feel for the organization, a feel from the coaches on what the schemes are and things like that," said MacKinnon after the roughly 90-minute on-ice practice. "I thought the skate went really well for everybody, it was very high intensity.”
Known for his quickness and speed, MacKinnon put both on display for fans who packed the bleachers to get a glimpse of him and other future Colorado players at the team's practice facility in Centennial, Colo.
"It's exciting to see him on the ice," said Colorado assistant general manager Craig Billington of MacKinnon. "He is a great addition for us.”
The practice itself had plenty of speed and physical elements, and it was a good test to see how MacKinnon could handle skating at a mile above sea level.
This wasn't his first skating experience at altitude, however, as he trained with several current NHL players last week in Vail, Colo., which has an elevation of 8,150 feet at its base.
"For me, I'm right at sea level in Halifax, [Nova Scotia] so it's pretty different from here," he said of training in the mountain town. "It's nice to get adjusted to the altitude, and I feel pretty good."
Head coach Patrick Roy said earlier this summer that he plans on playing MacKinnon as the third-line center at the start of the season, but that doesn't mean the rookie is guaranteed a spot on Colorado's opening night 23-man roster.
The notion that he will have to earn his way to the NHL club is something that MacKinnon understands, but as of now, his focus is on improving his own game.
“I am going to try and keep it simple and get better every day," he said. "I'm going to do the systems and work my hardest and hope my skill can come out from that. I'm not going to try and do too much out here, just play my own game and not try and change too much."
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