The first name called in the NHL entry draft June 30 in Newark, N.J., is certain to be one of three North American players: Seth Jones, Nath- an MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin. From a standpoint of need, Jones, unquestionably the top defenseman available, is the guy for the Avalanche, which has the No. 1 pick.
But not so fast, said Bob McKenzie of the NHL Network and Canada's TSN. The Avs, he believes, might want to consider taking the best center (MacKinnon) or the best winger (Drouin) available and trading the No. 1 pick to obtain a proven elite defenseman.
"They always say don't draft by position when you're drafting No. 1. Don't draft by need," McKenzie said. "Draft the best player, the best asset, because your needs change quickly. I'm not saying the Avs would or should trade (centers) Matt Duchene or Ryan O'Reilly or (Paul Stastny), but if you think MacKinnon is the best guy, take him. Don't worry about the need part."
The Avs are deep at center, where they have Duchene and O'Reilly, both 22, and Stastny, 27. They're also stocked at the wing, but lack size up front. MacKinnon (6-foot and 182 pounds) and Drouin (5-10, 186) won't make them bigger, however.
"I'm Seth Jones all the way," said former Avalanche forward Mark Rycroft, an NHL analyst for Altitude. "It fills the biggest need the Avalanche has. The Avs are loaded with 6-foot, 190-pound skilled forwards, great players. If you draft MacKinnon or Drouin, odds are they will trade one of their skilled forwards to service their need at defense."
Jones and MacKinnon finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Central Scouting's final draft rankings, but the No. 3-ranked Drouin could be in play for the first pick. Drouin was named major junior's player of the year and would fit in nicely on a line beside Duchene, O'Reilly or Stastny.
"He's probably got the highest hockey IQ of the three. He's really, really smart. He makes everyone on the ice better," McKenzie said. "His skill level, hands, creativity and his mind are probably the best among the three of them."
All three have distinct skill sets, making Colorado's choice more difficult. "Jones is a physical specimen who can really skate, and when he's on his game, he can take over offensively," McKenzie said. "Nathan MacKinnon is a really, really tenacious goal-scoring center. He's a shoot-first, pass-second center who has elite traits."
McKenzie said he believes the Avs will draft the 6-4 Jones, who began playing hockey in the Denver area before moving to Texas, where he was born, at age 13.
Jones' Portland Winterhawks lost 6-4 to the Halifax Mooseheads, led by MacKinnon and Drouin, in the Memorial Cup championship game May 25.