Rookie MacKinnon has Avs in thick of playoff race

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Nathan MacKinnon squirmed a bit in front of his locker and tugged on the brim of his Colorado Avalanche ball cap, a little uncomfortable with any sort of comparison to the Great One.

The rookie forward almost apologized for breaking one of Wayne Gretzky’s records Thursday in Detroit. With his assist on Andre Benoit’s winning goal in overtime, MacKinnon now has a point in 13 straight games, the most by an 18-year-old NHL player. That surpassed Gretzky’s mark of 12 during the 1979-80 season.

“Pretty cool,” the soft-spoken teenager said.

He suddenly chuckled.

“It’s the only record (of Gretzky‘s) that I’ll break,” said MacKinnon, whose team hosts Central Division-leading St. Louis on Saturday, with the Avs just three points behind. “It’s nice for sure.”

MacKinnon is a virtual lock for the rookie of the year award, especially considering he’s leading all rookies in points (51), goals (22), assists (29) and shots (184).

Even more, his quickness on the ice has helped move the Avalanche from the bottom of the standings a year ago to prime position to make their first postseason appearance since 2010.

Precisely what the Avalanche were picturing when they took him with the No. 1 pick over the summer.

“When he starts getting going, everybody is at the end of their seat, with just how exciting it is,” Avs first-year coach Patrick Roy said. “He’s been outstanding since the start of the season.”

Even if he is playing out of position right now. A center by nature, MacKinnon has been switched to the wing on a line that includes captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s anchoring the middle, and Paul Stastny. With those two around him, sometimes MacKinnon gets overlooked.

Or that is at least Matt Duchene’s opinion anyway.

“They take the attention, and he’s waiting in the weeds,” Duchene said. “All of a sudden, boom, he’s gone, taking off and scoring a goal. I don’t think the other teams know what hit them.

“The streak he’s on is pretty impressive, pretty crazy. It’s special.”

No arguing that. Some of the biggest names in the game never had a streak quite like this as rookies. Alex Ovechkin of Washington had an 11-game streak his first year, while Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby each had 10.

Mention the streak, though, and MacKinnon just shrugs, even if it did top the mark of Gretzky (a person he’s never met, but would like to).

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