For the first time since moving to Denver, the Colorado Avalanche possess the 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Said by many to be the deepest draft in years, the Colorado Avalanche will face a very difficult decision as to who they hope will become a key player in shaping the future of the franchise. Defenseman Seth Jones, center Nathan MacKinnon, and left wing Jonathan Drouin lead the dynamic class and all bring talents and skills that will be sure to greatly benefit their new NHL teams.
Two days ago, the Denver Post's Adrian Dater broke the news that the Avs will not select defenseman Seth Jones with their first overall pick. Could this be a bluff to try to trade down with Florida or Tampa Bay, the teams who hold the 2nd and 3rd overall picks respectively? Unlikely, but anything is certainly possible. If the Avs do select MacKinnon, who many are picking as the best of the class, what do they do with the logjam of centericemen that will create?
Joining me to weigh in are former Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Austin Snow, The Hockey Writers' Kevin Goff, Mile High Hockey's Managing Editor Cheryl Bradley, and Avalanche Avenues Founder Aaron Musick.
It seems like I every day I change my opinion on what the Avalanche should do with the 1st overall pick in this year's draft. So much so, I'd almost rather be in the 3rd overall position so the Avalanche can just draft whoever falls to them. Is this how Oilers fans felt when trying to decide between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin? Firstly, I would be terrified picking a defenseman 1st overall. I think Erik Johnson is a competent defenseman, but how much do you think Blues fans would rather the team have picked Jonathan Toews 1st overall in 2006? Defensemen are just so hit or miss, it seems irresponsible to take one with the 1st pick. You have guys like P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Keith Yandle, and Kris Letang all selected in the second round or later. I think it would be smart to take the flashy, tangible offensive skill at the top of the first round and then rely on your scouting to make a couple defensive selections in the next couple rounds.
Ideally, the Avalanche could trade down from #1. But I agree with Patrick Roy saying that you probably wouldn't want to trade yourself out of the top-3 unless it was the deal of a lifetime. That being said, I don't see Florida wanting to give up anything to get to #1 - they're sitting pretty at #2. Unless they are bonkers over MacKinnon, and the Avs are able to tip their hat that they may draft MacKinnon, I don't think the Panthers try to move up. Aside from Huberdeau and Gudbranson, there isn't anybody on the Panthers roster that I'd want on the Avalanche, but they do have a strong pool of prospects. Perhaps the Avalanche could go hot on MacKinnon and convince the Panthers to trade the #2 pick and Gudbranson for the #1 pick and, say, Johnson. Long shot, but the potential is there if Florida wants MacKinnon bad enough.
The Lightning also have a couple pieces if they wanted to get in at #1. I would be perfectly fine trading the #1 pick and Stastny for the #3 pick and Victor Hedman, for example.
Lately I've become real bullish on Jonathan Drouin, though. I like the idea of another solid left winger to anchor what could be a very potent top-2 lines. I like that he has a high hockey IQ, and I think that he would make someone like Paul Stastny or Ryan O'Reilly that much better.
Bottom line is that I don't think the Avalanche should draft Seth Jones at #1 overall. If they can trade down to #2, #3, or #4, I think Jones would be a great pick. I wouldn't even be mad if the Avalanche tried to drop down to the bottom half of the top-10 and take a guy like Darnell Nurse. But if they're going to stay at #1, I would rather the team take guaranteed talent like MacKinnon or Drouin, and then hope a guy like Ryan Pulock (D) or Steve Santini (D) is available to them at the #2 spot of the 2nd round.
With the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Colorado Avalanche should select Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks.
Nathan MacKinnon has suddenly become the "sexy" pick after his fantastic performance during the Memorial Cup, but he doesn't really match what the Avalanche need going forward. The Avalanche have too many centers in the system as it is, so drafting him would put the team in a position to put either him or another center on the team in a role they shouldn't really be playing.
As far as selecting Drouin, the worry I have with him and MacKinnon is that the Avalanche essentially become another version of the Edmonton Oilers. A team that has great offensive power but absolutely no defense trying to win every game 7-6. Simply speaking, that's just not a recipe for success.
The area of greatest need for the Avalanche, both in the short term and long term, is defense. Our team does not have the talent defensively to be successful, nor is there a great deal in the Avalanche farm system that makes people stand up and shout. Both Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott are part of the big team and have some question marks surrounding them. Will Barrie be able to continue to improve defensively? Will Elliott be able to rebound from a less than stellar season? Duncan Siemens is really the only other defender that you see in the system that anybody expects anything out of at an NHL level. Seth Jones is greatly needed.
Jones' scouting report shows him as a strong two-way defender that can help in all areas of the ice. Penalty kill, power play, even strength, all of it. There is more risk as far as defenders taking longer to develop, but the ceiling is the highest for Seth Jones. It's hard to ignore his capabilities and how they happen to match up exactly with what the Avalanche need.
Way back in December of 2012, I thought to myself, "What's all the hype with this Jones kid?" Even from the first game of the World Junior Championships, there was all this buzz about how Seth Jones was the next Nick Lidstrom. Yet with every game I watched, I saw less and less of what these people were talking about. Yeah, the kid has great offensive skills. He's a ridiculously good skater, he's got an awesome outlet pass, his work on the blueline is a thing of beauty, and the guy can score. But, here's the kicker: he's a defenseman. Isn't he supposed to be good at, you know, defending? That's where I had issues because his work in his own zone is good at best, closer to average. Yes, some of the things in which he's lacking can be taught. However, you can't teach vision, and this is where I saw him struggle. He often put himself out of position because he didn't see how the play was developing in front of him. He relied on his long reach to interrupt passes with his stick rather than playing the man to thwart the play. He did things that he just won't be able to get away with at the NHL level.
So I turned my attention to other players. One guy that kept catching my eye (without even knowing who he was or where he was ranked) was Jonathan Drouin. Talk about hockey IQ. That kid was always in the right place, seemed to know where the puck and the play was going to be steps ahead of everyone else. He was sneaky and quick with the ability to maneuver in small spaces, protecting the puck the entire time, and create scoring ops nearly every time he had the puck on his stick. I was mesmerized, and one thought kept going through my head: he reminds me so much of Matt Duchene.
Granted, Dutchy has a lot more speed than Drouin (and plays a different positional and all), but it's how they use their skills to evade defenders and create opportunities where there would otherwise be none that is so similar. Drouin is explosive, a trait that makes him unpredictable and difficult to defend. Drouin's hands are elite, evidenced by the way he handles the puck in and around traffic, setting up his center seemingly without effort. It's a rare gift.
As soon as the regular NHL season started, I kept imagining what it would be like if Drouin was playing with Duchene and PA Parenteau. The thought nearly made my head explode. Adding Drouin to that line could elevate it to one of the most dangerous lines in the league.
People claim that Nathan MacKinnon "made" Jonathan Drouin. Unfortunately, the facts just don't back that up. Drouin was actually more prolific of a scorer when MacKinnon wasn't around than when he was with the center. In contrast, MacKinnon's numbers dropped when Drouin was out of the lineup. Yes, MacKinnon is going to be a franchise talent, but I continue to believe (even after the Memorial Cup playoffs) that Drouin is the better of the two players.
The closer the Avalanche got to that number one draft pick during the season, the more I hoped I'd get to see that Drouin-Duchene-Parenteau line. Some would say it would be a waste to use the number one pick on a guy who could be had at second or third. The problem is there's not that much worth trading down for with Florida and Tampa Bay. So why take the risk that another team sees in Drouin what I do?
I believe Drouin is the Best Player Available in this draft. If I were part of the Avs' brass, he'd be my selection.
Where is Doc Brown when I need him? Seriously, I’m tired of waiting for the draft, the awesome Bruins-Hawks series notwithstanding. Tom Petty is wrong. Waiting is not the hardest part, not knowing what’s coming is.
As I sit here writing this, Sakic has made us believe the Seth Jones is out of the running for first overall pick and that it is now between Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and (as if it weren’t already a conundrum) Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov. If this were NHL13, I’d just pick all four and go from there but since I can only pick one I pick MacKinnon.
Like most Avs fans I was amazed by his play at the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Where I am different is why. Most people that I have talked to have seen his 13 points in the four games. They have seen the goals, the assists and thought “darn he looks good.” What I have seen that I like so much is his motor. Every shift I noticed MacKinnon skating- by far the fastest player on the ice- working hard, getting the puck loose and making something out of nothing. MacKinnon is fast and is always moving his feet. He works hard every shift on offense and defense and is a game-changer, especially because he has elite goal scoring ability.
MacKinnon is also an elite goal scorer. He has been compared to Steven Stamkos as far as the release and type of shot he has. Yes the Avalanche need defense, I’m not going to deny that but they also need a goal-scoring forward. The last time the Avs had a 40 goal scorer was in 2002-03 when Milan Hejduk won the Rocket Richard 50.
Back in April, I was on the Seth Jones bandwagon but watching MacKinnon and his approach to the game. Imagining him and Duchene as one-two punch down the middle for the foreseeable future is really fun to imagine. There’s no wrong choice here for the Avs. With any of the top four, they’ll get a franchise player but getting MacKinnon will be the best for the franchise in the near future as well as further down the road.
Two days ago, I was firmly on board the Seth Jones bandwagon. I love his backstory; with him getting his start right here in Denver on a tip from none other than Joe Sakic when Seth’s dad, Popeye Jones was a member of the Denver Nuggets. It also would have been neat and historic for the Avs to be the team to select the first ever African-American player first overall. However, neither of those reasons should justify a #1 pick. I firmly believe than in any draft, especially when you hold the 1st pick overall, you must select the best player available.
Unlike the 2005 draft, when there was no question that Sidney Crosby was going to be picked 1st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Avs have a much tougher decision on their hands with plenty of talents amongst the top of the draft class from which to choose. Like I said, I believe you should always select the best player available. For most of the year, it seemed like Seth Jones was going to be the consensus pick. However, Drouin and MacKinnon dazzled in the Memorial Cup with the latter winning MVP of the tournament. While Jones was not bad in tournament, it certainly did not help his stock that his Portland Winterhawks were defeated by MacKinnon’s and Drouin’s Halifax Mooseheads and his contributions were certainly outmatched by the two Halifax forwards.
So with no clear-cut “best player available” then, you pick for need, which would have been Jones, no question. Finishing 29th out of 30 teams last season, the Avs have much work to do, but their glaring Achilles’ heel all season was clearly their defense. Jones would have helped to shore up the Avs blueline, but history tells us that defensemen may need more time to develop than forwards. That is, IF they even develop to their full potential. Ed Jovanovski, Bryan Berard, Chris Phillips are all examples of defensemen taken 1st overall who never really became superstars at the NHL level. Even the Avs’ own Erik Johnson was selected 1st overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and has yet to live up to the billing of his draft pick and his subsequent blockbuster trade to Colorado. In Johnson’s defense, he is only 25, so he does still have time to emerge as an elite defenseman. One thing is for sure, no matter what the Avs do with the #1 pick, they need to seriously upgrade their defense. Prospects Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, and Duncan Siemens should help, but for the most part, they are all still all unproven commodities. Could a trade be in the works? Perhaps. Pittsburgh Penguins star defensemen Kris Letang has been in the trade rumors lately. Could a 2nd (32nd overall) and a prospect fetch him? Could the Avs draft MacKinnon and then flip him and some other roster players such as Stastny and Wilson for Shea Weber and Aleksander Barkov (presuming he goes 4th to Nashville)?
With Jones seemingly out of the mix now, Nathan MacKinnon becomes the front-runner. MacKinnon is an extremely talented center and no one was better during the Memorial Cup. Hailing from the same hometown, he has drawn comparisons to Sidney Crosby, the best player in the game today. If MacKinnon is in fact the next Crosby, he very well may be too good to pass up. The only problem with drafting MacKinnon (aside from not addressing the needs on defense) is that center is by far the Avs’ deepest position. Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O’Reilly are all centers capable of playing a top-line role and adding MacKinnon to the mix would further complicate things. Duchene should not be traded. Period. He is a bona fide franchise center. Ryan O’Reilly cannot be traded until February 28th, 2014 at the earliest due to his offer sheet. So if the Avs do draft MacKinnon, it looks like Paul Stastny might be on borrowed time here in Colorado. With his high price tag of $6.6 million, I’m not sure what the market for him would be, but in a package along with lower picks or even the Avs 2014 1st, look for the Avs to trade for defense. If Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and company believe that MacKinnon is the best player in the 2013 NHL draft, then draft MacKinnon and worry about the rest later.
Jonathan Drouin should not be overlooked either. MacKinnon’s left winger in Halifax, Drouin boasts a very dynamic and tantalizing skill set that any NHL team will be lucky to have. He is a quick, flashy player, not unlike Avs superstar Matt Duchene. The prospect of Drouin on the left side of Duchene and P.A. Parenteau is a very intriguing prospect indeed! The argument can certainly be made that Drouin is the best player in the lot and he, unlike MacKinnon, does fill a need of the Avs (although not nearly as much as Jones).
Bottom line, if Joe Sakic was in fact laying his cards on the table for whatever reason and Seth Jones is truly out of the mix, then my pick is Nathan MacKinnon. He will not solve all of the Avs’ deficiencies, but realistically, no one draft pick will do that in the National Hockey League. Pick the best player available and go from there.
Special thanks to Austin, Kevin, Cheryl, and Aaron! We shall see what June 30th, 2013 will hold in store for the future of the Colorado Avalanche.