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The battle for Cole Harbour: Is Nathan MacKinnon outshining Sidney Crosby as top NHLer?

The 22-year-old is showing this season he might be ready to take No. 87 off the top of Halifax hockey heap.

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.

David Zalubowski / The Associated Press

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.

Many in the hockey world will tell you — the best player in the NHL comes out of Cole Harbour.

But a debate could now be made on who that actually is — at least this season, anyway — Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon?

“Am I in that mix?” laughed Cam Russell, a former NHLer and Cole Harbour native, who serves as general manager of the Halifax Mooseheads.

“You know what? That’s what you want. You want someone new to come along and be thrilling and exciting to watch. He’s got a way to go. Sidney Crosby has done so much . . . But it’s exciting to see someone come from the same small town and create such a stir.”

MacKinnon doesn’t come anywhere close to matching Crosby in terms of overall resume, but if you are to compare the two Cole Harbour stars this season, it’s MacKinnon outshining No. 87 at the halfway point.

The 22-year-old MacKinnon has 20 goals, 54 points and a plus-six rating for the surging Colorado Avalanche, who drafted the former Mooseheads star in the first round of the 2013 draft.

Crosby, eight years his senior, has 17 goals, 47 points and a minus-11 rating for a Penguins team which has won back-to-back Stanley Cups, but has looked rather ordinary so far in 2017-18.

“Statistically speaking, as we sit here, Nathan MacKinnon is having a better year . . . Demonstratively,” said TSN national coorespondent Paul Hollingsworth, who is from Halifax.

“But I still think if you are looking for the superstar model to follow, Nathan MacKinnon is probably following the Sidney Crosby example. And if that’s the case, then Sidney Crosby still has the mantle of being, if the not greatest player in the game, one of the greatest players of the game.”

What is most impressive about MacKinnon’s season is how well he’s rebounded from a sub-par 2016-17 campaign. Playing for an underperforming Avalanche club, MacKinnon had just 53 points — one fewer than his total to date this year.

Last year's play led some hockey pundits to question if he was going to become the league superstar many thought he would be.

Jump ahead a season, and MacKinnon is now in the conversation to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He’s also been selected for the upcoming NHL all-star game.

“I think he was always on this path, it just took him a little longer to get there based on the expectations and frustrations of a lot of hockey fans,” said Hollingsworth, who has penned books on both MacKinnon and Crosby through Halifax-based Nimbus Publishing.

“He’s certainly a great young player,” he added. “He’s maybe on his way to becoming on that list of being one of the greatest.”

MacKinnon is no stranger to Halifax hockey fans. He played two seasons for the Mooseheads before being drafted by the Avalanche, leading Halifax to both the QMJHL title, and the Memorial Cup crown as a 17-year-old.

“It’s been spectacular. He’s really emerged as one of the top players in the league. And it hasn’t surprised me,” said Bobby Smith, a former NHL star himself, and current majority owner of the Mooseheads.

“Hey, it was a bad year for everyone in Colorado last year . . . And this year, he’s playing like the elite player he is.”

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