Nathan MacKinnon will be a target for the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals. The great star of the Colorado Avalanche will be one to watch, as will that of the Alberta team, Connor McDavid.
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The two Canadian forwards have been frequently compared since joining the National Hockey League (NHL). This series of four aces should be a canvas for the two immensely talented players to impress.
“From my experience as a player, I know that the best in the world prepare even more when they face the other best in the world. In our universe, everyone is hyper-competitive and wants to do well,” Oilers interim head coach Jay Woodcroft said at a press conference on Saturday.
The latter knows the Nova Scotian a little, but is that really a playoff advantage?
"I had the opportunity to coach MacKinnon twice: once at the 2015 World Championship and once at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey," Woodcroft said. I have a good understanding of what he can bring to the table. He is a powerful skater and he plays with emotion. He is a very, very good hockey player.”
MacKinnon's name will certainly be circled in the 45-year-old's game plan, but not just this one. Defender Cale Makar, for example, is "a threat in all three areas" according to Woodcroft, and Mikko Rantanen has yet to be mentioned...
Tyson Barrie is a pretty lucky man. The guard, a former Toronto Maple Leafs and Avalanche, had the opportunity to play with players like McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and, of course, MacKinnon.
“Having played with him, his work ethic, the way he prepares and takes care of his body reminds me of this guy,” Barrie explained, pointing to McDavid to his left.
"He's definitely upped his game in this round and like Tyson said, he'll give us a hard time," the Oilers captain said of his next rival.
A pleasure for the eyes
After a "Battle of Alberta" against the Calgary Flames which dazzled on the offensive level, Woodcroft is expecting a new duel that will charm the hockey world.
“Every game we've played against Colorado this season has been a good one-on-one. Two good teams, a lot of talent on the ice, a lot of speed [...]. The three games were very well contested and entertaining for the fans,” admitted the one who will need the efforts of everyone to counter the big guns of the Avalanche.
He can obviously count on his own artillery pieces: McDavid and Draisaitl.
“In the first two rounds, they were definitely elite,” he said, searching for an even stronger word. What separates the best in the world from other good players in the NHL is this ability to raise [his game] at the right time.
The series will begin Tuesday with the presentation of game number 1, in Denver.