Avalanche Take MacKinnon With Number One Pick

by
Reuters
The Colorado Avalanche opted for goal-scoring over defense, taking Canadian Nathan MacKinnon ahead of top ranked Seth Jones with the first overall pick at an intriguing National Hockey League draft in Newark, New Jersey on Sunday.

* Teams look for goals with early picks

* Top ranked Jones goes to Nashville

The Colorado Avalanche opted for goal-scoring over defense, taking Canadian Nathan MacKinnon ahead of top ranked Seth Jones with the first overall pick at an intriguing National Hockey League draft in Newark, New Jersey on Sunday.

The suspense in the buildup to draft day intensified as trade rumors swirled around the Prudential Center and the surprises came quickly with MacKinnon taking number one honors.

But it was left to the Vancouver Canucks to provide the biggest shock of the opening round when they sent first choice netminder Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth pick.

The deal created shockwaves on both coasts, with Schneider's arrival in New Jersey casting a cloud over the future of Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts and disgruntled Canadian Olympic gold medallist Roberto Luongo's return to number one status in Vancouver.

The Avalanche, who ranked near the bottom of the league in scoring last season, could not resist taking the 17-year-old MacKinnon, who hails from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia the same home town as Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

A powerful skater, MacKinnon does not turn 18 until September but possesses the offensive skill that many experts believe will allow him to make the jump to the NHL.

"I have a couple more months of training, get ready for training camp and hopefully I can make the team and stick there," said MacKinnon, the first player taken number one overall out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since Crosby went first to the Penguins in 2005. "I feel like I can be a good contributor next year.

"They're such a prestigious organization, and I can't wait to get started with them. Definitely a dream come true."

 

STOCK SOARS

Described as creative and a fierce competitor capable of elevating his game at the big moments, MacKinnon saw his stock soar leading his junior team the Halifax Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup and being named most valuable player of the championship tournament.

With defensemen traditionally taking longer to develop the Avalanche were also looking for a player capable of making an immediate contribution.

"Nathan's lived under the microscope for some time and he's always lived up to that," said Joe Sakic, Colorado's executive vice-president of hockey operations. "He's the most explosive player in this draft.

"He wants to be a difference-maker, he is a difference-maker. We're extremely excited to have him in our organization."

With the number two overall pick the Florida Panthers also passed on Jones, a big puck moving defenseman, in favor of offense, taking Finland's Aleksander Barkov.

The trend towards offensive players continued with the Tampa Bay Lightning grabbing Jonathan Drouin, a dynamic playmaker who played alongside MacKinnon with the Mooseheads.

Jones, the son of former-National Basketball Association journeyman Ronald 'Popeye' Jones, finally heard his name called when the Nashville Predators used the fourth overall pick to take the 6-foot-4, 205-pound blueliner.

Number one in NHL central scouting final rankings, Jones had appeared a perfect fit for the Avalanche.

It was in Denver where Popeye Jones spent one of his 11 NBA seasons (1999-2000) with the Nuggets and started his son down the unlikely path to hockey stardom.

Jones learned to skate during his time in Colorado, prompting his father to approach then Avalanche captain Sakic for advice about what to do with a son fascinated by hockey.

"First I am going to worry about myself and try and get better and make Nashville next year and second, in a good way, I'm going to try and make those teams regret not taking me," said Jones.

"That's my job and I'm going to do whatever I can do to help Nashville win."

As usual more than half (17-of-30) the first round picks were Canadians while four Americans were taken with two picks each from Finland, Sweden, Russia and Austria and one Swiss.

Jones was not the only player selected in the opening round with sporting pedigree.

Darnell Nurse, chosen seventh overall by the Edmonton Oilers, is the nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb while Max Domi, taken with the 12th pick by the Phoenix Coyotes, is the son of Tie Domi, who was once one the NHL's most feared fighters piling up more than 3,500 minutes in penalties in 1,020 career games.