The Colorado Avalanche are dropping hints like it’s going out of style.
The holders of the first-overall pick in Sunday’s draft are playing the media card to perfection while leaving their statements open to interpretation. What we’ve learned through their comments – at least, on the surface – is that they’re open to discussing a trade, prefer a forward and would have drafted Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick had the draft already taken place.
Whether it’s truthful, a big smokescreen to disguise their true intentions or simply a ruse to stir up speculation and generate interest in a trading partner, the team is undeniably creating buzz. That’s their right after leaping ahead of the Florida Panthers in the draft lottery to obtain the pick, although their speculation now seemingly destroys the feel-good story that emerged when they got the pick.
Originally, Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones appeared destined to return to the Rocky Mountain State. Jones picked up the game in Colorado while his father, then-NBA player Ronald “Popeye” Jones, played for the Denver Nuggets. “Popeye” even sought advice from then-Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, who’s now their executive vice president of hockey operations, in guiding his son towards the foreign game.
Recent speculation suggests real life makes for the greatest theatre, and a script playing out like a Hollywood blockbuster to reunite Jones with the Avalanche is more likely to hit the silver screen than the ice at the Pepsi Centre.
If nothing else, the Avalanche have followed the blueprint handed down from the Edmonton Oilers, the previous holders of the first-overall pick, by not formally-announcing their intentions in the days leading up to the draft.
We’ll try to sort out the top pick, along with the next 29, in our first-round mock draft.
Colorado’s new head coach and vice president of hockey operations, Patrick Roy, is quite familiar with MacKinnon. A year ago, MacKinnon was a key catalyst of a Mooseheads team that battled back from a 3-0 series deficit against Roy’s Quebec Remparts to win the series in seven games. Having seen MacKinnon’s exploits through two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Roy may have an even deeper appreciation for MacKinnon’s skill set.
MacKinnon would make an ideal future top-line centre, and give the Avalanche depth down the middle with Matt Duchene. Roy saw just how important depth at centre was during the Avalanche’s two Stanley Cup-winning seasons in 1996 and 2001, with Sakic and Peter Forsberg leading the charge. He may be hoping MacKinnon and Duchene form the modern day duo and restore the Avalanche to greatness.
After losing the draft lottery and sliding to the second pick, the Panthers may still get the first player on their board. Florida could also be strongly considering Drouin or Barkov, but with such a talented puck-moving defenceman available, the decision to take Jones could be easy. Jones would give the Panthers a defensive prospect capable of making the jump to the NHL and having an immediate impact next season. His ability to create offence from the back end can’t be understated enough, and Jones would get the puck in the hands of their skilled forwards quicker.
Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier aren’t getting any younger. Drouin, a skilled playmaker from the left side, would make a nice complement to Steven Stamkos for the long haul. Drouin’s skills perfectly suit Stamkos’ since Stamkos is a talented marksman and Drouin a gifted passer. It wouldn’t take long for these two to develop chemistry, even if Drouin returns to junior for one more season.
The Predators have the benefit of taking whichever of the top four slides to their pick. Barkov would give them the dynamic, offensive force from Finland and his addition would force opposing teams to match up against a future top line that would also likely include Swedish prospect Filip Forsberg. Since Barkov’s been playing pro in Finland for two seasons, he may be ready to come in and contribute right away.
This is where the draft will start getting interesting. There are several suitors for this next pick, and the Hurricanes may strongly consider one of the many promising defensive prospects or big Russian scorer Valeri Nichushkin. Even though their offence is currently in good hands and defence seems a more logical choice, the ultra-talented and versatile forward from Sweden could be a good fit. Lindholm can play centre and the wing, and plays with a winner-takes-all competitiveness. He may be too good to pass up.
This could be the first big surprise of the draft with Fucale at No. 6. One aspect that emerged through many of their trade discussions at the deadline was their desire to find a top goaltending prospect. They were unsuccessful in acquiring one through trade, and it’s rather unlikely Fucale is available for their next pick at 22. Fucale is head and shoulders more talented than the other goalie prospects in the draft, and if he pans out the way many think he will, this pick won’t seem like a reach in the future.
Should the Oilers hold the seventh pick, they may land yet another gifted centre in the Ottawa 67’s playmaker. Edmonton may also look at a defenceman with this pick, but Monahan is more NHL-ready and would make their future top six very dynamic. His competitiveness rubs off on his teammates, and that’s a quality the young Oilers may want in order to take the next step in their rebuild.
The Sabres are used to small, speedy and skilled forwards leading their team offensively. Domi brings a dynamic as a high-end point producer that will surely make him high on many draft boards. The Sabres have a stable of talented young defencemen, which could influence their decision to take a forward here. Given their crop of big, burly forwards — both on their team and in their system — Domi would have the room and security to do what he does best, thus maximizing his potential.
Should the Devils choose to retain this pick (they have to forfeit this year’s first or next, and aren’t likely to forfeit this pick with the draft in their rink), they would be ideally situated to land one of the top defensive prospects in the draft. Nurse is a character player with leadership qualities and a stout, two-way game. He should develop into a premier shutdown defenceman, which may be appropriate considering by the time Nurse arrives, the Devils will likely be without their security blanket: Martin Brodeur.
New Stars general manager Jim Nill will have a tough choice between London Knights teammates Horvat and Nikita Zadorov. Horvat could be higher on their list given that centre is a more glaring need than defence in the makeup of their future roster. Horvat would give the Stars a character, two-way centre — the complete package. He may not produce as many points as some players they pass up, but will be a valuable player in every facet of the game. And given the Stars’ lack of talent down the middle, the opportunities should be there sooner than later for Horvat.
The Flyers are in need of a big-time defenceman in their system, and the big and punishing rearguard from the Knights would be a welcome addition at No. 11. Zadorov has loads of potential as a physical, defensive defenceman while his offensive game is a work-in-progress, but could develop. His projection, however, is so high that the Flyers may believe their future pillar on defence is the mobile and hard-hitting defender from London.
Given the Coyotes’ uncertain future, a safe prospect like Lazar makes more sense than Nichushkin would. Lazar, a teammate of last year’s first-round pick Henrik Samuelsson, is a character forward with two-way abilities. He plays the game with unbridled enthusiasm and combines his positivity with an infectious work ethic and skill level. Lazar is a good bet to one day wear a letter while making an impact on both special teams units.
Christmas could come early for the Jets. Nichushkin has top-five skill level, but may slide further than most anticipate due to the Russian factor. His contract in the KHL and subsequent release fee will scare some teams away, as will his wavering consistency. The Jets, however, are in need of a skilled winger for the future and Nichushkin may be worth the gamble given his ability to put the puck in the net.
How fitting would it be for new general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to draft a prospect from Finland as the first Finnish (and European) GM in NHL history? Besides the great storyline, the pick makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jackets. Ristolainen is a skilled, two-way defenceman with great size and huge upside. Ristolainen spent the past two seasons in Finland’s top men’s league, the SM-liiga, which would make him one of the more NHL-ready prospects in the draft. Kekalainen should know Ristolainen inside and out by this point, which will influence his decision one way or another.
After drafting nothing but defencemen in last year’s draft, the Islanders are likely targeting a forward with their first pick this time around. Given the Islanders’ depth down the middle, a winger would make more sense. Burakowsky could edge out countryman Alexander Wennberg due to his higher offensive upside and he should evolve into a mobile, top-six winger.
The Sabres swing for the fence with another high-end, offensive forward in Shinkaruk. His potential as a goal scorer is intriguing and his skill set is among the top of the draft. Although he lacks in size, the Sabres may be less scared off since they have the perfect example of another diminutive, former Medicine Hat Tiger excelling in the NHL in Tyler Ennis.
The Senators dip from a familiar pond with another Swedish forward. Wennberg may not have the corresponding skill to match some of the players picked ahead of him, but his compete level is second to none. His versatility as a winger and centre adds to his appeal, since he could start as an energy forward providing defence before his offensive game evolves at the NHL level.
The Red Wings have done a good job re-stocking their defensive prospects in recent years although they may not be done yet considering there’s still a slight disconnect between their current defence and the arrival of their prospects. Morin is among the quickest risers in the draft after his strong performance at the under-18 world championship in April. He skates well for his mammoth six-foot-six, 200 pound frame and shows a lot of promise with his puck skills and defensive game. His potential is appealing, and the Red Wings tend to get the draft right.
Erne possesses two characteristics Kekalainen is known to covet: grit and offence. The Quebec Remparts forward plays like a bull in a china shop and has the soft hands around the net to develop into a feared goal scorer. The Blue Jackets are in need of depth on the wing, and Erne would immediately be among their most offensively-gifted prospects.
The Sharks may be in the market for a defensive prospect given their aging defensive core and lack of high-end defensive prospects. Pulock dropped on some draft boards following a season filled with various injuries; but there’s no disputing his talent. Pulock has a booming point shot that will be a weapon at the NHL level, and possesses the size and two-way game the Sharks tend to covet in their defencemen.
Brian Burke may be gone, but the blue print he left behind is easily discernible after it paid dividends this season. The Maple Leafs evidently believe bigger is better, and given their emergence as a team, there’s no reason to stray from that thinking now. A fairly strong defensive cupboard means they’re more likely looking at a forward. Gauthier is a safe pick. He plays a solid, two-way game and is a presence on the draw — the type of player every team needs in close games.
The Flames are thrilled local product Morrissey is still available for their second of three first-round picks. Morrissey is exactly the type of prospect they need for their rebuild: a skilled, offensive defenceman who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s got swagger, something the Flames could use in the next couple years as they attempt to escape from the basement in what may be a lengthy rebuild. He’s been compared favourably to Morgan Rielly in terms of playing style, though Morrissey is more physical and not quite as skilled.
The Capitals would be ecstatic with the Swiss defender sliding to their pick at No. 23. Mueller has many of the intangibles NHL teams covet in a defenceman, along with size and a developing offensive game. The Capitals could use another solid defensive prospect in their system, and Mueller fits the bill. He could thrive in Washington as a complementary player alongside stars Mike Green and John Carlson in the not-too-distant future.
Rychel is the ideal fit for the Canucks: a big forward who plays with sandpaper and can score. Rychel is a character player who will stand up for teammates by dropping the gloves at a moment’s notice. His gritty style is something the Canucks are currently lacking, and recent transactions suggest general manager Mike Gillis is intent on changing that. Rychel’s offensive game could also translate well given the playmakers in Vancouver, something he would need for his offensive game to succeed.
Mantha embodies many of the things the Canadiens are looking for with his size and scoring ability, not to mention his French-Canadian roots and bloodlines as the grandson of former Habs forward Andre Pronovost. Although Mantha doesn’t play a very physical game, his offensive abilities are something the Canadiens could use in the near future. He has soft hands, scorer’s instincts and touch around the net, and could be the next big francophone star for Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
The Ducks have done an excellent job with a succession plan for youngsters taking over for veterans. Many of their young forwards are ready for increased roles in the near future, and soon their young defencemen will be doing the same. Hagg would give the Ducks another offensive defenceman who plays with confidence and swagger.
Forget the Blue Jackets’ dismal history drafting Russians because Zykov plays more like a North American, not to mention the fact he’s already playing in North America. Zykov could be a home run at this point in the draft given his high offensive upside. He plays with grit and has the size to stand up for himself.
Bigras could be the perfect complementary defensive partner for Morrissey in the future. He’s a reliable, two-way defender who plays with poise and a quiet confidence. He does all the little things well and proved this season he can play in every situation. The Flames would have a bit of everything on a future defensive corps featuring Bigras, Morrissey, T.J. Brodie, Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon.
After using their first pick on a safe prospect in Horvat, the Stars could afford to gamble a little more with this pick. Theodore is widely believed to be a boom or bust prospect, but he brings a dynamic the Stars are currently lacking as a puck-moving, offensive defenceman. His high-end skill set will likely be tantalizing enough for someone to take him in the opening round, and the Stars would be a good fit.
The Stanley Cup champions are playing with the house’s money. Their core roster is young and loaded in talent, while their prospect cupboard is packed to the brim. Hartman should be appealing because he will undoubtedly remind management of a player who was a thorn in their sides just this week in Boston’s Brad Marchand. Hartman plays a similar game to Marchand as a pesky agitator with underrated offensive skill. He would make a lot of sense for the Blackhawks with this pick.