Saskatoon, Sask. – Halifax Mooseheads star Nathan MacKinnon did just about everything he could at the MasterCard Memorial Cup to leapfrog Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones in the draft rankings.
In the championship game, MacKinnon outperformed Jones with second-to-none heart and determination. It showed on the stats sheet as he scored a hat trick and two assists to lead the Mooseheads to a 6-4 victory over the Winterhawks. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound centre, who scored seven goals and 13 points in four games, was rightfully so crowned the tournament MVP.
“I just try to keep it simple and work hard,” said MacKinnon after the Memorial Cup win. “Lately things have been going my way. I try to bring my best when the stakes are high.”
That's not to suggest Jones had an off night or underperformed in the tournament, though. The 6-foot-4, 206-pounder shinned all the way through as an elite anchor. At times he would speed up the pace of the game by quickly rushing the puck down the ice with his uncanny agility and puck protection. And on other instances he would slow down the speed of the game by guarding the puck and creating space between him and his opponents.
For some scouts, MacKinnon’s outstanding Memorial Cup showing was enough for them to think he’s the top prospect of the draft.
“I do think MacKinnon hurdled Jones in the Memorial Cup,” said Ross MacLean, head scout of International Scouting Services. “He really had to deal with adversity in the end of the season and proved to be even more versatile as the playoffs progressed. And you can add to that he was the hands down most dominant player in the entire Memorial Cup. I think it’s impossible not to think those things give him the edge on Jones.”
It isn’t, however, unanimous that MacKinnon has the edge on Jones, who scored two goals and four points in five games at the Memorial Cup.
“I think it’s a back-and-forth debate that could never end (on whether to take Jones or MacKinnon),” said an NHL scout, who asked to remain anonymous. “Either way, you are going to get a great player with the potential of being a franchise player. Personally, I would take Jones. He’s the best young defenceman I have seen since Chris Pronger was playing for the Peterborough Petes. But MacKinnon is also a very special talent. He has the makings of a future superstar because of how badly he wants to win combined with his rare skillset. It’s a win-win situation for the (Colorado) Avalanche (who holds the No. 1 pick in the draft).”
One thing is certain – it seems there isn’t much of a debate anymore on who is the top Moosehead in this year’s draft.
“MacKinnon established himself not just in the Memorial Cup as a better prospect than (Jonathan) Drouin, but in the last two rounds of the QMJHL playoffs, where it appeared he was fully recovered from his knee injury and was able to play his regular brash self,” said former NHL scout and current head scout of Mckeen’s Hockey David Burstyn.
Although Drouin did fly under the radar at times at the Memorial Cup, he still racked up one goal and nine points, including a 5-assist night in the championship game. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound winger’s showing was easily strong enough to keep him ranked the clear-cut third best prospect in the draft.
"Drouin did not have a great Memorial Cup and at times was invisible during the tournament; however, NHL scouts and Mckeen's Hockey certainly did not drop his stock for his subpar play in Saskatoon," said Burstyn.
Mooseheads puck-stopper Zachary Fucale bumped his draft stock in the right direction in Saskatoon. The 6-foot-1, 176-pounder showcased his veteran-like poise and precision, maintaining a .902 save percentage a 3.52 average.
“I think Fucale is special,” said MacLean. “I think he will be a leader into a new era of goaltenders for Canada and possibly even the poster boy for the reopening of the Quebec goaltending factory. I think that he is just eligible for the draft makes him even more impressive. He has the poise of a goaltender 10 years older than him.”
London Knights offensive stars Max Domi and Bo Horvat kept their draft stock steady with strong performances in The City of Bridges. Their highlight of the tournament was when Domi fed Horvat a behind-the-legs saucer pass that ended up in the back of the net against the Winterhawks.
“They didn’t particularly standout some nights, but I believe Domi and Horvat showed they deserve to have their names called within the first 15 picks of the draft,” said the NHL scout. “Domi is a very skilled winger who I think could start the year in the NHL next season. He goes hard to the net and has great speed. Horvat has the makings of a very strong two-way centre. He can win the big draws for the power play and penalty kill, and in the offensive zone, he has the hockey sense to create scoring opportunities. Those types of players don’t grow on trees.”
Knights 6-foot-5, 227-pounder Nikita Zadorov, meanwhile, played a steady game on the back end. It seems similar to Domi and Horvat, his mid first round ranking stood pat throughout the tournament.
“Zadarov’s size will have nearly every team picking between 8-15 thinking about taking a chance on him,” said the NHL scout. “He played well in Saskatoon. He scored a big goal against the Blades in the opener and didn’t make too many mistakes. I don’t think anyone’s opinion of him changed after this tournament.”
Despite Winterhawks forward Nicolas Petan finishing third in points with one goal and nine assists, it appears he is still viewed as a late first-round or early second-round prospect because of his small 5-foot-9, 166-pound frame.
“Size always scares teams,” said the NHL scout. “Since smaller players tend to drop at the draft floor, I still see Petan going very high second round. He did have a good tournament, but it still comes down to his ceiling and size. I don’t think his potential is high enough to have a team with a top-20 pick take a chance on him.”
Danish sensation Oliver Bjorkstrand had a quiet tournament on the Winterhawks' second line, posting a goal and two assists in five games.
“I didn’t notice him that much,” said the NHL scout on Central Scouting Service's 36th ranked North American prospect. “But that can be a good thing since he didn’t standout for mistakes. He had a good rookie year in the WHL and has some raw skill; those two things should make him a second-round pick. He has a lot of potential to breakout into a big-time scorer next year.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen