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Gazette Premium Content Veterans helping Avs' No. 1 overall pick adjust quickly to NHL

By Joe Paisley Published: September 15, 2013

One is the new Face of the Franchise.

The other two are solid veterans ready to mentor an 18-year-old from Nova Scotia still dazzled a little by all the media attention.

It was evident only a few minutes into Sunday's Burgundy & White Game that new Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy was correct in pairing rookie center Nathan MacKinnon, the 2013 NHL draft No. 1 overall pick, with wings Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn.

"It's hard not to have good chemistry when you line up with a guy who has all the skill in the world," said Downie, who along with his linemates, generated opportunities throughout the Burgundy's 3-1 scrimmage win. "He sees the ice so well. He's a natural"

After a week together, the projected third line for the Avs performed well in the scrimmage, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of 2,713 at Cadet Ice Arena Sunday at the Air Force.

To be sure, the two veterans handle physical play better, but MacKinnon, 18, showed why the Avalanche chose him over presumed favorite Seth Jones this past spring.

"His first three strides are so fast, he is going full speed before I even get started," Downie said. "Once he matures physically, he is going to be special."

The line tallied the game-winner when McGinn took a pass from Downie, then spun and snapped off a hard high shot from the right faceoff circle that beat White goalie Calvin Pickard with 1:50 left in the second for a 2-0 lead.

While Downie took the scrimmage in stride, MacKinnon, was a bit more excited to have played.

The teenager was surrounded by media in the locker room and had three wet towels thrown in his face during interviews. He is a rookie, after all, and must be teased for all the attention.

"I am so happy to be playing for the first time in a Avs game sweater," he said. "I am really looking forward to the Anaheim (home preseason) game on Wednesday."

He and his linemates gelled as a line by the second practice, Downie said.

"We talk a lot, that's for sure," MacKinnon said. "All three of us take a simple approach to hockey and we bring things to the game that complement each other well."

There is plenty of pressure on the teenager, but Roy said he hopes the rookie will not try to be the savior of the franchise and just be himself.

That looks plenty good.

"He is doing much more than was expected of him this season," Downie said. "That says a lot about his talent."

Notes

Former North Dakota standout Brad Malone scored to make a strong push to be one of the few American Hockey League regulars to make the Opening Night roster. It will be tough, especially when 22 have NHL-only contracts. ... Veteran Alex Tanguay has plenty left in the tank. "He will make Paul (Stastny) and Gabe (Landeskog) better," Roy said. ... Landeskog was the only one to score during the mandatory shootout.

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