Could Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon set a franchise record for points? “I have no doubt”

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CALGARY — As Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was trying to find a new, but similar, to way describe the greatness of his superstar center, the guy he was discussing was deep into an intense session on a stationary bike about two stick lengths away.

Cramped quarters in the bowels of Scotiabank Saddledome be damned, Nathan MacKinnon’s postgame workout waits for no one. MacKinnon had just scored a ridiculous goal and added an assist in a 6-2 thrashing of the Flames, setting a career high in points in the process.

“We talk about it all the time, right?” Bednar said of MacKinnon continuing to reach new heights. “It’s just who he is. The drive to be the best player he can be, to keep improving his game in little areas. Whether it’s just a fraction in one area that helps him get better, fraction in another one … he’s constantly looking to improve his off-ice habits, seeking out any knowledge that can help him get better. He does it on the ice. He does it off the ice. He does it in his preparation. That’s why he’s continued to improve.

“He’s not slowing down. He’s getting better and better every year.”

MacKinnon has 41 goals 113 points in 66 games this season. With 16 games to play, MacKinnon is now on pace for 140 points.

That’s a pretty significant number. Peter Stastny set the franchise record for points in a season 42 years ago when the team was based in Quebec City. Stastny had 139 points.

The Avs are trying to nail down another Central Division title, and get everyone on the roster playing as well as possible for a potentially long playoff run. But another storyline to watch during the stretch run is MacKinnon’s real chance to not only set a franchise record for points, but also produce one of the best seasons for a player of his age and NHL experience in league history.

“Yeah, well if he keeps playing like he has, I have no doubt,” Mikko Rantanen said. “I think it’s a good chance. We have to help him as best we can to get to that number.”

This is MacKinnon’s age-28 season, and his 11th year in the NHL. For most of the league’s history, this is the point where even a large majority of the all-time greats start to slow down. MacKinnon has set a new personal standard each of the past two seasons.

He has a chance to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer for the time in his career. A Hart Trophy as league MVP can’t be ruled out, either.

“Yeah, I do,” Rantanen said when asked if he runs out of superlatives for MacKinnon. “I think him and Cale, it’s two remarkable players. It’s hard to describe them sometimes. I just enjoy playing with them. They can obviously see the ice well. They can finish off plays. It’s really good, really nice to watch.”

That’s just this season. Zoom out, and what MacKinnon is doing is even more impressive.

MacKinnon is one of 19 players in NHL history to reach 113 points at age 28 or older. He’s only the fifth to do it in the salary cap era, joining Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06, Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Huberdeau two years ago and Nikita Kucherov last season. Kucherov sits six points behind him right now, so assuming both get to at least 124 points, it would be the two best years by a player of this age since Mario Lemieux had 161 points in 1995-96.

Doing this after 10-plus years in the NHL is even more rare. MacKinnon is the 10th player in NHL history to reach 113 points in his 11th NHL season or later.

Six of the other nine guys to do it had a career-best total earlier in their career. MacKinnon joins Mark Messier in 1989-90, Ron Francis in 1995-96 and Johnny Bucyk in 1970-71 as the only players in NHL history to score 113 or more points in their 11th season or later … and have it also be a career high.

MacKinnon has found ways to improve deep into his career. He also keeps doing things that even leaves other quality NHL players dumbfounded.

His goal Tuesday night against the Flames was remarkable, even by his high standard.

Valeri Nichushkin sent a long cross-ice pass to MacKinnon near the bottom of the left circle. The pass took long enough to get there that Calgary goalie Dan Vladar had time to shift to his right and seal off the short-side top corner of the net — where nearly every NHL player is going to shoot for.

MacKinnon’s shot beat Vladar over his far-side shoulder. Vladar’s reaction looked very much like a goalie looking behind him and thinking, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ He wasn’t alone.

“When you’re playing against him or even just watching, it might make you a little angry, just wondering how he does it,” Avalanche center Casey Mittelstadt said. “I don’t know if I can do that. You’re probably going to have to ask him that one. He’s a great player. There’s very few guys in the world that can do that.”

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