By Sarah Kwak
NEWARK, N.J. — With a full 1:30 left on the three-minute countdown clock on the stage of the Prudential Center, the Colorado Avalanche weren’t trying to delay their new start any longer. With the first pick at Sunday’s 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Avs selected Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The selection did not come as a total surprise. Colorado’s choice has been hotly discussed since Joe Sakic, the Avs’ vice president of hockey operations, began floating the idea that the team was keen on taking a forward over defenseman Seth Jones, the top-ranked prospect. In the days before the draft, Sakic and new Colorado coach Patrick Roy gushed about MacKinnon, believing the 5’-11”, 179-pound forward would end up being the best player in the draft. But it was a bit difficult to believe only because of the glaring hole that Colorado has on its back end and the unique qualities that Jones brings. Plenty of people believed it was posturing by the relatively new management team, perhaps to get trade talks moving, but in the end, they weren’t bluffing, and MacKinnon took the stage first.
The Memorial Cup MVP and a top prospect who has been in the hockey spotlight since he was just 14 years old, MacKinnon already possesses NHL-caliber power and speed. His skating abilities are unparalleled by any prospect his age, and as he grows into his frame, he is expected to be a force in the league. From Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the hometown of Sidney Crosby, the 17-year-old MacKinnon has garnered plenty of comparisons to his childhood idol. On Sunday morning, he began to carve out his own path.
With the second pick, Florida delivered the day’s first surprise by taking Aleksander Barkov, a big-bodied Finnish-Russian center with sharp hockey instincts, over Jones or MacKinnon’s teammate, Jonathan Drouin, who was then taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning third overall.
That left Jones, the consensus No. 1 after he led Team USA to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia last January, still without a team after the first three selections had been made. The Nashville Predators quickly rectified that by taking the mobile, skilled defenseman with the fourth pick. The 6’4”, 206-pound Jones will make an excellent replacement for Ryan Suter, who left Nashville last July to sign with the Minnesota Wild. And with Shea Weber as a mentor, Jones could flourish in an organization that has historically produced some of the most solid blueliners in the league. It’s an excellent fit for Nashville and Jones, but it was still surprising to see this highly regarded prospect fall all the way to fourth.