Avalanche Thoughts – With The 1st Pick In The 2013 Draft
My thoughts on the Memorial Cup Championship game and what the Colorado Avalanche should do with the #1 overall pick.
Last night I got a chance to see the top three prospects in the NHL draft: Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jonathan Drouin; live for the first time in the biggest game in junior hockey; the Memorial Cup Championship.
At the end of the game, I don’t think the Colorado Avalanche can go wrong with the #1 overall selection, but they definitely have a tough choice.
In the first period, it looked like the Avalanche would be crazy if they didn’t take one of the dynamic Halifax Mooseheads forwards. Drouin finished the first with 3 assists while MacKinnon added a goal and an assist. Both men showed off their incredible offensive talents and, playing on the same line, always seemed to know where the other one would be. Both players were all over the offensive zone and could’ve tallied more if not for the Portland goalie. Meanwhile, Jones had a rather pedestrian period. He made a couple of good defensive plays, but he was on the ice for two Halifax goals (one on the PP) and made a bad breakout pass that was intercepted by MacKinnon and brought back for a good scoring chance. Jones started to show some life at the end of the period though, making a good defensive stop, taking the puck along the boards, and using his smooth skating to possibly start a breakout before the end of the period cut him short. Jones slammed his stick as the horn sounded, likely frustrated that he wasn’t able to create a late chance but also because his Portland Winterhawks found themselves down 3-2 after one.
The script was flipped in the second round though. MacKinnon and Drouin disappeared while Jones stepped up. He made a couple of nice neutral zone passes, including a breakout pass that led to a goal, which ended up being overturned. He also let some bombs go from the point, which were turned away by the goalie, but did create havoc in front. Jones finally got himself on the score sheet in a four on four situation when he took the puck across the offensive zone and down the boards, beating two Halifax players, including MacKinnon, dropped it off to a teammate behind the net, went to the front, received a pass, and put a shot high glove side for the goal. The play really showed off Jones’ offensive abilities, but more importantly, cut the Halifax lead to 3-2 setting up a big third period for both teams and the three best players.
And in the biggest period of their young careers, it was MacKinnon who stood out from the pack. MacKinnon put his team back up 2 by working hard, going to the front of the net, out-muscling the Portland defenseman, and chipping the puck over the goalie for the score. He added an assist later on by using his speed to create a scoring chance and watching his teammate cash in on a rebound. To cap things off, MacKinnon buried an empty net goal for the hat trick. Drouin contributed two assists in the final frame as well. Jones wasn’t bad, except for a slow back check on the fifth Halifax goal, but he didn’t stand out like MacKinnon did.
So what should the Avalanche do with the #1 overall pick?
After watching that game, I honestly have no clue. I know that Avalanche scouts and management aren’t going to base their future on one game, but it was their last chance to see all three players in a game situation before the draft.
Seth Jones is the top rated prospect and for good reason. He’s a big defenseman who reads the play well, always has stick in good position, makes a good first pass, has a blast from the point, and is one of the best skating defensemen that I’ve ever seen. He’s not as psychical as he could be given his size, but it’s possible that changes at the next level under the right tutor.
Nathan MacKinnon was the top rated prospect before the season started and it’s clear that his play didn’t fall off, Jones just elevated himself by the final rankings. MacKinnon is a well-rounded offensive player. He’s strong on the puck, has a quick release, and has good hands. He also provides leadership and I saw a lot of Jonathan Toews in his game.
Jonathan Drouin is the dark horse. Like MacKinnon, he’s a very good offensive player although he is more of a playmaker than a finisher. He has great vision and a soft touch with his passes that make it easy for teammates to receive and shoot.
So what should the Avalanche do with the #1 overall pick?
After breaking down their games and reading up on each man, I honestly have no clue.
Here’s what I do know though: The Avs were very weak on defense last year and already have three good young centers.
Ideally, that would mean that Jones is the no-brainer pick. The Avs need a #1 defenseman and Jones looks to have all the tools to be that guy. If he comes in and produces as expected, it puts the rest of the defense in their place and takes pressure off of a guy like Erik Johnson.
But what if MacKinnon is just too good to pass up?
If that’s the case, then the team has to trade Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, or Paul Stastny. O’Reilly can’t be dealt until February 28. Stastny has a cap hit of 6.5 million and can be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Duchene was the best player on the team last year and appears to be on the verge of superstardom. Could the Avs take MacKinnon, keep all four guys, play one of them at wing for the season, and trade O’Reilly when he’s available or let Stastny walk at the end of the year? Yes, but that seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
If anyone is to be traded, it has to be Stastny, but what team is going to give up value for a player who appears to have hit his peak, is making too much money, and could be a free agent at the end of the year? It’s tough to know who is available at this time of year, but Keith Yandle and Tyler Myers were names floating around at the trade deadline. I’d imagine that the Avs would have to give up more than just Stastny for Yandle, but I think that a Stastny for Myers swap, with maybe some minor pieces on both sides, is very possible. Since winning the Calder trophy, Myers has seen his production decrease every year while injuries have increased. He’s also owed 5.5 million a year until 2019. He’s only 23 and has shown to be a very productive NHL player, but it’s possible that Buffalo is ready to cut the cord. Would trading Stastny for Myers and then selecting MacKinnon #1 be the worst scenario for the team? If anything, it might be the best.
Then there’s Drouin, who plays left wing and wouldn’t look too bad on a line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau. Both guys are natural goal scorers and Drouin would make their job a lot easier with his crisp passing. He would definitely give the Avs another young offensive weapon and he and Duchene would give the team a feared LW-C one-two punch along with Gabriel Landeskog and O’Reilly.
Of course, offense doesn’t win championships. The Edmonton Oilers have a ton of young and talented offensive players, but have no one on defense and continue to miss the playoffs. All that offensive talent that the Pittsburgh Penguins have is only as good as the defense and goalie behind them. Same goes for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Also, there’s no denying that MacKinnon and Drouin fed off each other. Players look a lot better when good players are around them and those two were fortunate to play on the same line. Jones wasn’t as fortunate. Again, this was only one game, but the Portland defense and goaltending was brutal.
MacKinnon and Drouin are safer picks. Historically, highly picked offensive talent just pan out better than highly picked defensive talent. Jones has the bigger upside though. If he turns out to be as good as hyped, he’ll anchor the Avs defense for the next 10-15 years.
It’s already been a very exciting off season for Avalanche fans, but it’ll get a lot more exciting on June 30th.