Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon enters eighth NHL season with one goal in mind: “Our expectation is to win the cup”

The NHL spotlight this training camp shines brightest on the Colorado Avalanche as betting favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup.

Nathan MacKinnon welcomes the hype.

Sportsbooks project 6-to-1 odds for the Avs to win it all, matching internal expectations of a proud hockey franchise seeking its fourth championship. It all starts this week at training camp for a shortened 56-game season.

“Our expectation is to win the Cup, not just to claw and scrape our way into the playoffs,” MacKinnon told reporters Monday during a video news conference. “We had a great practice to get off on the right foot. Every day, we’re going to need to get a little bit better and come together as a group. Play for one another and hold each other accountable. We feel good. Everyone is in great shape and pressure is, obviously, a nice thing to have.”

The Avs played five-on-five and situational hockey at the team’s Englewood practice facility Monday. Colorado returns the majority of its team that only four months ago lost to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. A pair of savvy offseason trade additions — defenseman Devon Toews (Islanders) and forward Brandon Saad (Blackhawks) — have only increased MacKinnon’s optimism.

“It’s exactly what we needed,” he said. “We had injuries last season and we still scored a ton of goals. We’re definitely a very deep team. … We’re very versatile, everybody can do different roles, and it’s great to have that luxury. We haven’t always had that here. It’s amazing what players we have this season.”

MacKinnon’s praise of a seemingly loaded roster is absent of this fact: The Avs will go as far as he takes them. MacKinnon, 25, finished runner-up for NHL MVP last season with 93 points (35 goals) in 69 games while totaling only 12 penalty minutes. MacKinnon’s extreme self-confidence was evident with this self-assessment of his game entering year No. 8 in the league.

“I don’t think there’s one glaring thing I need to work on,” MacKinnon said. “Obviously, it’s a tight schedule, and I just want to stay even-keel, play my best every night, and help this team win.”

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar recognizes MacKinnon is rightfully praised for his elite speed and offensive skill-set. Yet it appears Bednar is more enamored with MacKinnon’s growth defensively.

“When you watch Nathan play — his skating ability, his intelligence, his strength — he can be an unbelievable defender,” Bednar said. “He’s engaged physically and doing the right things on almost every occasion. … I think he can be the best defender in the league, but when you’re thinking offense and creating offense the way he does on a nightly basis, it’s a lot to ask for him to be the best on both ends of the rink. Having said that, it’s a goal of his, and he’s put a lot of effort into his defensive play.”

Toews, paired with defenseman Cale Makar to begin his first Avalanche season, added: “(MacKinnon) attacks everything — whether it’s in the gym, practice, games — with purpose. It’s something that makes him so special. He doesn’t take a shift off. He doesn’t take a play off. He plays hard. Even today defending (at practice) I noticed that he puts the wheels on, he grinds, and he plays hard down low.”

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