Super Joe Sakic said it himself: the Colorado Avalanche will not be selecting heralded defenseman Seth Jones with the first pick in the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday.
Sakic could be bluffing in his first draft calling the shots for the Avs, possibly attempting to lure other teams who fancy the three can’t-miss forwards – Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Aleksander Barkov – into a deal. This seems unlikely, however, because Sakic probably wants one of the forwards himself.
The knock on Jones is that although he has size and skill, he is a defenseman, and history shows d-men haven’t panned out too well as the first pick. The Avs know this all too well. Erik Johnson, now with the Avs, was the last defenseman selected first in 2006 by the St. Louis Blues and hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Johnson has been criticized for not being more physical and imposing his size on the opposition. For his career Johnson has a +/- of -31.
To Johnson’s defense, he has been on some bad teams. But Jones has similar size (30 pounds lighter at this point) and the Avs might not want to draft him and have him turn out more like Johnson than Chris Pronger.
Regardless, Jones will most likely be a stud in the league. The Avs not selecting Jones probably has more to do with the potential of the forwards in the draft than any deficiency with Jones.
MacKinnon is the new projected first pick. He’s hyped up to be a superstar in the making, a complete player. He’s fast, can score goals, dish the puck, and is a two-way player that isn’t afraid to throw around his body. His game is compared to Sidney Crosby, and he even attended the same boarding school as Crosby, Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota.
Further boosting his stock, the Nova Scotia native recently won MVP of the prestigious Memorial Cup tournament when his Halifax Mooseheads beat Jones’ Portland Winterhawks 6-4 in the tournament finale. It’s likely that MacKinnon’s dominant performance in the Memorial Cup grabbed the attention of Sakic. In four games, MacKinnon scored seven goals and finished with 13 points against top tier prospects. In the clinching game against Jones’ Winterhawks, MacKinnon exploded for a hat-trick and added two assists, completely taking over the biggest game of his life. Jones has been the favorite to be selected first for some time, but MacKinnon’s performance in the Memorial Cup looks to have surged him into the first slot.
While MacKinnon may be the favorite, Drouin and Barkov make the decision tough.
Drouin and MacKinnon were teammates on the Mooseheads and caused opposing teams migranes playing on the same line. Drouin flourished in the Memorial Cup as well, scoring nine points with eight assists in the tournament. He is considered to be a guru with the puck; magical vision along with a sticky handle. Drouin is a point producing machine, racking up 105 points in 49 games this past season in the QMJHL. His point total is astonishing, but even more impressive considering MacKinnon managed to score 75 points in 44 games. Drouin’s hands and passing would fit nicely as a quarterback for the Avalanche’s dormant powerplay that finished 24th last season. Drouin is an offensive combustion, but his skating and defensive skills have been questioned. Drouin may rack up more points than MacKinnon if he can effectively run an NHL powerplay, but MacKinnon’s ability to play the complete 200 ft. of the ice sets him apart.
The 6-foot-2 Barkov asserted himself into the conversation in the past few weeks. Barkov has been playing in the SM-liiga, Finland’s top league, for the past few years and has put up solid numbers. This past season he put up 48 points in 53 games – encouraging considering he is only 17 years old. Barkov’s strengths are his puck handling and passing skills which are nice compliments to his large stature. The North American game is much rougher than what Barkov is used to in Finland, but his size will help him take the punishment he will endure in the NHL. Scouts say his skating will need to improve in the future, but he has a large ceiling in terms of potential. Barkov might be too much a risk for the Avs, although his game will get a long look from the front office.
So, no Jones. But who knows, Sakic might have an old trick up his sleeve. For now we’ll take his word and trust his judgement. Super Joe’s never let us down before.