WEEHAWKEN, N.J. – Unless it’s a smokescreen designed to cloud other teams picking near the top of Sunday’s NHL draft, the Colorado Avalanche has already spoiled the surprise — the Avs plan to draft former Shattuck-St. Mary’s star Nathan MacKinnon with the No. 1 overall pick.
Hall of Famers Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, now running the Avs, must not know teams keep that kind of news close to the vest. Part of the draft’s charm is when cameras frame two nervous athletes who have no clue — OK, little clue — whether or not they’ll be forever known as the top dog in their particular draft.
But Sakic and Roy, who won Stanley Cups with Colorado in 1996 and 2001, have already spilled the beans and said they’re not taking “the defenseman” — 6-foot-4 Seth Jones.
That would have been the tailor-made feel-good story.
Jones, who helped the United States win gold at the past World Junior Championships, would not only be the first African-American taken No. 1 in the NHL draft, he’s essentially a Colorado-produced player. He is the son of former Denver Nuggets forward Popeye Jones and was a diehard Avalanche fan. Seth Jones had seats on the glass when Sakic handed the Stanley Cup to Ray Bourque in 2001 after the Avs beat New Jersey in Game 7.
“That’s kind of the moment that I can remember that I wanted to be a hockey player and eventually raise the Cup one day and play in the NHL,” said Jones, almost four months shy of his 7th birthday at the time. “I never really had any desire or will to play basketball.
“My dad was obviously pretty upset at first, I can imagine, with me and my other two brothers for not even being willing to play at such a young age. It was something he had to deal with. He got over it eventually and he’s excited now.”
So if Sakic and Roy are being truthful, Wild fans better get used to seeing MacKinnon, a dynamic 6-2 center, in its same division for years.
“He’s definitely a skill guy, but he’s a powerful skater,” Sakic told the Denver Post. “He loves going to the net, to the hard areas. He’s just a tremendous player. … If the draft were held today, it’s fair to say we’d be leaning toward him.”
MacKinnon scored 32 goals and had 75 points in 44 games for the Halifax Mooseheads last season and was selected as the Memorial Cup’s MVP after recording a tournament-high 13 points (seven goals), including a hat trick in the championship game against Jones’ Portland Winterhawks.
At Shattuck, where his pal and skating partner Sidney Crosby also played, MacKinnon had 99 goals and 194 points in 98 games playing for the bantam, then midget teams.
“They attract good players to begin with and then they’re the perfect place to develop,” MacKinnon said.
For the record, MacKinnon said nobody from the Avalanche has told him he is going to Colorado.
“You hear so much stuff about Seth and how he’s a perfect fit, and I guess you kind of forget you’re in the mix, too,” MacKinnon said. “It’s pretty cool to hear two Hall of Famers saying good things about you. It’s pretty special.
“But you start thinking about it too much, you just psyche yourself out. You can’t expect yourself to try to save any franchise. But it would mean a ton. It would be a huge honor. I’ve heard such great things about the organization.”
If MacKinnon goes No. 1, Jones may go to Florida at No. 2. Panthers GM Dale Tallon believes you build a franchise up the middle and with stellar two-way defensemen. The Panthers have Jonathan Huberdeau and former Gophers standout Nick Bjugstad at center.
Tampa Bay and Nashville pick third and fourth, respectively, and Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov are considered sure things.
If Jones is passed up by Colorado, there will be no hard feelings.
“It would have been a cool story for everyone,” Jones said. “It looked like it was going that direction. But Joe and Pat know what they’re doing, and if they think [MacKinnon is] going to help their team win, you can’t blame them.”