Avalanche make MacKinnon first pick of NHL draft
AP Sports Writer
NEWARK, N.J. — Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby now share more than a hometown.
They’ve both been No. 1 picks in the NHL draft.
The Colorado Avalanche made the 17-year-old MacKinnon the first pick of the draft on Sunday at the Prudential Center.
The Avalanche won the draft lottery for the first time in team history and Joe Sakic, the man put in charge of Colorado’s rebuilding project, had made it clear that MacKinnon was going to be the top pick. He was the first player drafted No. 1 overall out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Crosby in 2005.
MacKinnon and Crosby are both from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
“I love Sid. He’s my favorite player,” MacKinnon said. “I guess he’s still my favorite player. I don’t really know what to say now since I’m going to be in the same league as him. I don’t know if I should dislike him or not.”
MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, said it all with a laugh. But he’s serious about making the big club this season with Colorado.
“Hopefully, I can make the team and stick there,” MacKinnon said. “I feel like I can be a contributor next year.”
MacKinnon is a solid two-way presence with strong hands and stick-handling and skating skills. He is considered a natural scorer and an excellent distributor. Sakic, a former Avalanche captain who is now the executive vice president of hockey operations, ended the guessing game in the final week when he said MacKinnon would be their pick.
“They said it in the media but I didn’t really get my hopes up,” MacKinnon said. “I was definitely more nervous than I expected to be a couple of minutes before the draft.”
He played for the Halifax Mooseheads and led them to the Memorial Cup championship. MacKinnon, who turns 18 on Sept. 1, was named tournament MVP after scoring 13 points.
Next stop, Colorado?
“So proud to be part of the (at)Avalanche organization!!!” he tweeted to more than 45,000 followers.
That was just the start of a busy day at the home of the New Jersey Devils, who gave a jam-packed crowd a reason to cheer when the announced they acquired goaltender Cory Schneider from Vancouver. Schneider seems in line to be the eventual successor to Martin Brodeur in net.
The rest of the teams were busy planning their future through the draft.
The Florida Panthers made center Aleksander Barkov, the top-ranked European skater, the second overall pick.
Tampa Bay took forward Jonathan Drouin, also out of Halifax, with the third overall pick.
The Nashville Predators pounced on defenseman Seth Jones with the fourth overall pick. Jones, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman, was widely considered the top prospect in the draft. He was the top-ranked player on the NHL Central Scouting’s final list of North American skaters.
He is the son of former NBA forward Popeye Jones. Popeye Jones paced the floor of the Prudential Center and said Seth slept great and was calm in the final hours leading up to the draft.
But that had to change just a bit when Jones, who played for Portland of the Western Hockey League last season, slipped to fourth.
Carolina selected Elias Lindholm, who played in Sweden, fifth and the Calgary Flames followed with center Sean Monahan from Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League.
After picking first the last three years, the Edmonton Oilers took defenseman Darnell Nurse, of Saulte Ste. Marie in the OHL, with the seventh choice. Nurse is the nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb posted a picture on Twitter of the two of them smiling together a couple of hours before the draft.
The NHL had two black players picked in the top seven with Jones and Nurse.
McNabb was famously booed by Eagles fans in the 1999 draft and was hurt for years by the reaction. Nurse heard polite applause in Newark.
“We’re even, because he went higher than me,” Nurse said, “but I didn’t get booed at my draft.”
The Buffalo Sabres took Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen with the eighth overall pick.
The New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center are hosting the draft for the first time. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was drowned out by boos each time he took the podium. But he finally heard cheers when he announced the Devils were on the clock. It became louder when Bettman announced the Devils traded the ninth pick to Vancouver for Schneider.
“I think you guys are gonna want to hear this,” Bettman told the crowd.
Schneider was on the market once the Canucks were unable to dump high-priced goalie Roberto Luongo. Vancouver then selected center Bo Horvat, of London (OHL), with the ninth pick. The Dallas Stars selected forward Valeri Nichushkin, of Russia, with the 10th pick.
The Flyers bucked tradition with the 11th pick and drafted a defenseman, 6-foot-6, 203-pound Samuel Morin. He played for Rimouski of the QMJHL.
The Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks ended the first round by picking forward Ryan Hartman, of Plymouth (OHL), with the 30th pick.
Jones, who lived in Colorado as a youth and seemed a perfect fit for the Avalanche, has ties to Tennessee, as well. Popeye Jones owns a house there, and there is still family throughout the state.
“It’s a perfect spot for him,” Popeye Jones said, proudly. “He’ll be motivated there, and ready to go.”
Sakic gave Jones some advice on getting Seth more interested in hockey when they both played in Denver more than a decade ago. Popeye Jones later developed a friendship with Colorado goalie, and now coach, Patrick Roy.
The draft storyline that had Jones joining the franchise that encouraged his push into hockey went bust on the very first pick.
“It definitely sounded too good to be true. It turned out that way,” Seth Jones said. “But not really. I mean, I’m not unhappy that they didn’t choose me. It was their decision, and that’s what they thought would be best for their organization.
“You’ve got to respect that.”
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