Jul 25, 2011, 2:19 PM EDT
When people discuss prospects, there’s often a spot for an NHL comparison. A lot of times such comparisons draw guffaws from readers when a prospect is compared to, say, Joe Sakic. (Then again, the saddest times might be when a more lucid parallel is drawn to a decidedly marginal NHLer.)
It must be stomach-churning to be considered “The Next [Blank]” … even when an athlete embraces it. Kobe Bryant made an obvious nod to Michael Jordan when he changed his jersey number from 8 to 24, but it’s not like he could escape the comparisons anyway.
Sometimes the similarities run deeply enough that making comparisons only seems natural, even if it is still a bit unfair. That might be the case with 15-year-old prospect Nathan MacKinnon, whose name is often connected to Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby.
ESPN the Magazine’s Gare Joyce was one of the first – or at least most prominent – writers to spotlight the similarities between the two when MacKinnon was just 14 (subscription required).
Nathan MacKinnon is a little less like a lot of hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that his life has eerily tracked Sidney Crosby’s. He was raised minutes away from the home where Crosby grew up, in the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Eight years apart, they played at the same rinks, competed in the same tournaments, played ball hockey on the same sleet-pelted tennis courts, and skated on the same frozen ponds. And much as Crosby used to fire pucks into his basement dryer, Nathan shot at a beat-up net with plastic milk jugs hanging off the crossbar for top-shelf targets.
Nathan MacKinnon is not at all like other hockey-playing, 14-year-old Canadian kids, in that he just might be the second coming of Sidney Crosby. In fact, MacKinnon is pretty much a clone of the most famous hockey player in the world: so skilled, so dominant, that many insiders already call him the next Sid the Kid. A center — like Crosby — MacKinnon scored goals by the hundreds in the top local leagues that Crosby once ruled. Like Crosby, MacKinnon played with and against players two and three years older, some more than a foot taller. And like Crosby, Nathan had to leave home young to find challenges. Needless to say, both landed at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the hockey powerhouse in Faribault, Minn.
The latest person to point out the parallels between the two is Alex J. Walling of TSN, who also profiled Crosby when he was 14 years old. If MacKinnon’s success so far in his young hockey career (not to mention his regional background) weren’t enough to invite the comparisons, Walling points out that they will probably have the same representation.
The comparisons continue with Crosby having Pat Brisson as his agent. I’m not sure if midget kids can have agents, so MacKinnon has an “advisor,” the same Pat Brisson.
Obviously, it’s wrong to assume that everything will work out for MacKinnon. A lot can change between now and when he’s draft-eligible, not to mention how far he’d have to go to justify those expectations if he makes it to the NHL.
Still, the startling thing about some of the can’t-miss hockey prospects is that many are identified from a similarly young age. Crosby was obviously one of them while the likes of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and so on dominated at a young age. We’ll have to wait and see if MacKinnon ends up in that group, but he has a long way to go.
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