DENVER -- As a kid, Nathan MacKinnon admired the game of his idol, Sidney Crosby. He even had posters on his wall of the Pittsburgh Penguins star. MacKinnon grew up with constant comparisons to his boyhood hero, especially since they were from the same hometown and had a similar scoring panache. Now, MacKinnon gets a chance to carve out his own identity after the teenager was the first pick of the draft by the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Much like Crosby eight years ago, MacKinnon will be counted on to turn around a franchise, one that finished last in the Western Conference in 2012-13 and missed the playoffs for a third straight season. No pressure, MacKinnon insisted. "I dont think anybody expects me to tear up the league and get 100 points as an 18-year-old," MacKinnon said at his introductory news conference on Monday. "I just want to help out and have a strong role and contribute as much as I can." To ease MacKinnons transition into the NHL, new Colorado coach Patrick Roy has already decided hes going to pair the rookie on the third line with Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie. That way, MacKinnon can be mentored by the veteran players. "I want him to have fun," Roy said. "Theres going to be enough pressure on him anyway. I know hes going to deal well with it. At the same time, its important for him to feel comfortable. "We need to give him time to adapt and just feel comfortable." Since being picked, MacKinnon has received congratulatory texts from teammates Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Hes also heard from Crosby, the player he grew up respecting so highly. "That was so cool," he said. MacKinnon was the first player drafted No. 1 overall out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since Crosby in 2005. Fittingly, hes only the third 17-year-old taken No. 1 overall in the draft since 1988, joining Joe Thornton (1997) and Crosby. There was a time when MacKinnon constantly heard about how he was going to be the next Crosby. The last few years, though, the comparisons have slowed down. Either that or hes simply tuned them out. "I realize that I wasnt going to be Sid and I am going to be a different player than him," said MacKinnon, who turns 18 on Sept. 1. "I wanted to create my own path. Were from the same area -- if I wasnt from there those comparisons wouldnt be made." The 6-foot, 182-pound MacKinnon actually sees himself being more similar in style to Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks captain who just led his team to the Stanley Cup crown. Like Toews, MacKinnon prides himself on being solid on both ends of the ice. Thats why Colorado was so drawn to the youngster, picking him over defenceman Seth Jones, who slid to No. 4 and was picked by Nashville. "(MacKinnon) wants to be a difference maker, and he is," said Joe Sakic, the executive vice-president of hockey operations whos in charge of the Avalanches restoration project. "I dont believe (pressure) is going to affect him one bit. Hes lived under pressure his whole minor hockey and junior career. Hes a hockey player -- he doesnt worry about pressure. "He cant wait to get on the ice and play to the best of his ability." He cant wait to get back on the ice, period, especially now that the draft is over. The last time MacKinnon picked up his stick was when he led the Halifax Mooseheads to their first-ever Memorial Cup last month. He had quite a tournament, too, recording 13 points on his way to being named the MVP. Asked if that performance at all swayed the Avalanche to use the top pick on him, Sakic said: "Anybody that watched him play there realized, on the biggest stage, he was by far the best player. "He was always rated right up there," Sakic added. "We did our homework. We had our internal meetings and thats the guy we all felt is a cant-miss kid, a guy thats a perfect fit for our organization." MacKinnon certainly doesnt rattle. Not on the ice or in the presence of two Hall of Famers. He posed for pictures standing between Roy and Sakic, hardly even intimidated by the moment. "That," he said, "was so cool." Now, its back home to work on his game. In a few months, he will be back in the Mile High City for training camp. Just where hes going to live as a rookie remains undecided. MacKinnon might reside with an Avalanche player to begin his career, the same way Duchene once shared a roof with Adam Footes family. But that hasnt been worked out yet. "This is the way I envisioned things all my life -- to play as an 18-year-old," MacKinnon said. "Pretty cool to hear that they have confidence in me, that I can make the jump and contribute. Its a big role as an 18-year-old. I have a lot to learn. I know that." NOTES: The Avalanche drafted seven players on Sunday, including five defencemen. ... Roy wants to play Ryan OReilly, Duchene and P.A. Parenteau on one line, along with Landeskog, Paul Stastny and newly acquired Alex Tanguay on another. Ramon Humber Jersey
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