It’s the beginning of the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft and Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center is buzzing about who the Colorado Avalanche will select after the Edmonton Oilers. It had been set in stone that the Canadian franchise would take Western Hockey League standout Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick but there was no guarantee who would follow. The Avalanche, a team looking to build an identity after failing to make the postseason in three of the previous six seasons, wasted little time, as general manager Greg Sherman made the announcement.
“The Colorado Avalanche are proud to select, from the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Gabriel Landeskog,” Sherman said with a gleeful smile.
At just 18-years-old, Landeskog was immediately thrusted into the the role of future leader of the franchise, a piece to build around who, a little more than a year later, would ultimately become the youngest captain in league history. But one player can only do so much, which is why two years after drafting Landeskog, the Avalanche selected Nathan MacKinnon – a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standout – with the first overall pick. Suddenly, things were coming together for Colorado and while there was much more building that needed to be done, the franchise thought it had something special.
It hardly went as planned for both Landeskog and MacKinnon. Inconsistency plagued the linemates, more so for MacKinnon who had won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year and within four seasons it looked like the Avalanche began to question whether the pair would ever take the leap and become “the next big thing.” But then, last year something just seemed to click. By the end of the 2017-2018 campaign, Landeskog, MacKinnon and fellow linemate Mikko Rantanen were the league’s highest scoring line, potting 47 goals – just one more than the Vegas Golden Knights’ William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. MacKinnon finally went off, potting 39 goals and 58 assists in 74 games and the line’s success helped lead the Avalanche to the postseason for the first time in four seasons, eventually losing in the first round to the Nashville Predators.
Coming into this season, the line looked to build on last year’s improvement and, through just nine games, the trio has come out like gangbusters – proving to be one of the league’s best. Sure, it’s early, but the talent has always been there, it just had to come out. Want to know the best part? Rantanen is 21, MacKinnon is 23 and Landeskog is 25.
The trio has been on fire thus far, with both Landeskog and MacKinnon netting eight goals, while Rantenen leads the trio in points with 16. While it might be unrealistic at this point, the line is on pace to score 182 goals and finish with 391 points. Still, given the past inconsistency, even if the line’s production stifles a little, it could be on pace for a historic type of season. It’s the type of line that demands fan attention when it hits the ice. However, there’s one another line that is making a case that it will be the best – the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top line of Auston Matthews, Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the success of the Leafs’ line is Auston Matthews.
The 21-year-old, former first overall pick is lighting the world on fire through nine games, scoring 10 goals and 16 points – and there’s little arguing he’s the very early front-runner for the Hart Trophy. Matthews is on pace for 91 goals and 55 assists, which would make heads all around the NHL explode. Kapanen and Marleau – a seasoned veteran replacing Michael Nylander on the line during his contract dispute – have certainly benefited from Matthews’ success, though the two have balanced out the line nicely, with the former putting up four goals and four assists and proving to be important to the line’s success. And at 22, we’re preparing for many years of both Kapanen and Matthews together.
Both the Avalanche and the Maple Leafs lead their respective divisions in points this season and appear to have the talent to make it back to the postseason. Actually, that Stanley Cup Final would be a ton of fun. No matter which line you think is better, take solace in knowing there will be great hockey for years to come from these two franchises.