NHL Draft: MacKinnon, Jones vie for top spot

Dhiren Mahiban, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

TORONTO -- For much of the season, Seth Jones of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks has been the consensus No. 1 pick with Halifax Mooseheads' teammates Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon generally considered the second and third overall picks.
However, the Colorado Avalanche, who hold the top pick at Sunday's draft in Newark, N.J., put a wrench in many draft predictions last week telling the Denver Post they would prefer to take one of the available forwards.
Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, is a 6-foot-4 defenseman, who grew up in the Denver area. He had 56 points in 61 regular season games with Portland this season, adding 15 points in 21 playoff games as the Winterhawks came one win shy of winning the Memorial Cup.
Jones said he was a Detroit Red Wings fan growing up and watched defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom closely.
"A puck moving defenseman," Jones, 18, said in describing his game. "Two-way. Plays defense, but I can also create offense for the team."
MacKinnon, who first played against Jones as a 15-year-old, described Jones as "very agile. He's really skilled and does everything well. He touches every part of his game. A very complete player."
Scouts believe Jones will be an NHL defenseman next season.
"If anyone had an unreal season from start to finish, it's this guy," said David Burstyn, director of scouting at McKeen's Hockey. "He's big, he can skate, he can skate better than some NHL players right now.
"Seth Jones is an anomaly because he's such a superlative athlete. He's already being talked about as a top-2 guy."
Drouin and MacKinnon, who are fresh off a Memorial Cup win with the Mooseheads last month, are, according to many rankings, the best two forwards available at this year's draft.
"I think my speed is what my strength is," said MacKinnon, 17. "I try to get hard on pucks and play a pretty physical game and get involved so a lot of it is that."
MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, had 32 goals and 75 points in 44 games this season with the Mooseheads. He was also part of the Canadian team, which finished fourth in Ufa, Russia, at the world junior championships.
"He's an extremely good skater. He can power around people and his shot's really developed from the first time I saw him," said Jones. "He can really put the puck in the net. He's definitely a tough customer to contain."
A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, MacKinnon often draws comparisons to Sidney Crosby, who is from the same hometown. The Colorado Avalanche haven't been protective of praise for MacKinnon. Head coach Patrick Roy, weighing what do to with the No. 1 overall pick, said it would be hard to pass on MacKinnon.
"They're a little bit different players, but they do have the compete level," said agent Pat Brisson, who represents both players. "They're very similar, they're both powerful skaters."
Drouin, a native Ste-Agathe, Quebec, is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward. He was the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year, scoring 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games this season.
"I had a really good first half of the season, that's why I got an invite to world juniors and I think I just played my game at world juniors," said Drouin, 18. "I'm a pass-first guy, I know I'm a playmaker. I just try to move the puck to my teammates and help them out."
Drouin, who wasn't even sure he'd play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when drafted, took home awards for the league's top player, personality of the year and the award for the best professional prospect.
"Drouin's got all the natural skill to be a point, a gate player in the NHL," said Burstyn. "He can play both center and left wing. He has to get a little bit more assertive. He's got to get a little bit more involved."
Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin, who spent this past season in the Kontinental Hockey League, could easily go within the top three picks of the draft, but as is the case with many Russians, teams are questioning if he will report.
Speaking through a translator at the recent NHL scouting combine, the 6-foot-4, 196-pound left winger said he would be willing to come to North America for the 2013-14 season, but only if he has an NHL job.
"Either NHL or KHL, not American Hockey League," Nichushkin said.
This year's draft also features prospects with excellent bloodlines.
Defenseman Darnell Nurse, who is the son of Richard, a former wide receiver in the Canadian Football League and the nephew of former NFL quarterback, Donovan McNabb, is expected to be a first-round pick.
Also expected to go in the first round is Max Domi, the son of former NHL tough guy, Tie. Forward Kerby Rychel, who is a projected a second-round pick, is the son of former NHL player Warren.
Forward Justin Bailey, likely a second-round pick, is the son of former NFL linebacker Carlton Bailey. Defenseman Jordan Subban, is the younger brother of Norris Trophy-winner P.K. and Bruins prospect, Malcolm. Andrew Cassel's son Cole is a projected third-round pick.

What to Read Next