DENVER (AP) — 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 don't 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 MacKinnon's transition into the NHL, new Colorado coach Patrick Roy has already decided he's 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. "There's going to be enough pressure on him anyway. I know he's going to deal well with it. At the same time, it's 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. He's 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, he's 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 he's simply tuned them out.
"I realize that I wasn't 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. We're from the same area — if I wasn't from there those comparisons wouldn't 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.