Colorado delivers on promise, drafts MacKinnon No. 1

Sunday, 06.30.2013 / 5:29 PM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- In the end, Colorado Avalanche executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic was true to his word.

The Avalanche on Sunday selected center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the No. 1 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center.

When Avalanche coach Patrick Roy announced the selection, the 6-foot, 182-pound right-handed shot turned to his father, Graham, and embraced him.

"I hugged him a few times, I think," MacKinnon told NHL.com. "It was an unbelievable moment and it's still surreal. I've worked my whole life to get drafted and it crept up quick and it's a very proud moment."

MacKinnon was asked if he is familiar with Roy's system of coaching. Roy spent the past eight seasons as coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL before being hired as Colorado's coach on May 23.  

"I'm familiar with him," MacKinnon said. "I know his systems pretty well, studying against him during the playoffs in Halifax. We had so much video on their team. I'm not sure if they'll be the same or not, but I know their style. He's a competitive guy and his will to win is second to none, so I'm excited to play for him."

MacKinnon, 18, was surprised to learn that the most recent player from the QMJHL to be drafted No. 1 was Sidney Crosby of the Rimouski Oceanic, who went to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.

"That's cool," MacKinnon said. "I didn't realize that. Obviously the 'Q' has come a long way the last few years with three straight Memorial Cups (Halifax in 2013, Shawinigan Cataractes in 2012 and Saint John Sea Dogs in 2011). It's definitely a strong league."

In addition to his father, MacKinnon's mother, Kathy, and older sister, Sarah, were on hand Sunday.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Sakic and his managerial team was steadfast in its assessment of the top four players on this year's board, including MacKinnon, defenseman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, forward Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads and Finnish center Aleksander Barkov.

"When you found out who Colorado was taking, that's when I found out," MacKinnon said. "They didn't tell me to my face that they were going to take me. I was obviously more nervous than I expected to be before the draft."

Though Jones was rated No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's list of draft-eligible North American skaters, the Avalanche never wavered in their desire to add an exceptionally skilled center to their prospect pool. Jones was selected No. 4 by the Nashville Predators. The Florida Panthers chose Barkov at No. 2 and the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Drouin with the No. 3 pick.

"When you watch Nathan play, he's definitely a skilled guy, but he's a powerful skater," Sakic said. "He can play a skill game, but he loves going to the net. He goes to the hard areas. He's just a tremendous player."

It certainly was a banner year for MacKinnon, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters. He finished the regular season with 32 goals, 75 points and a plus-40 rating in 44 games. In 17 playoff games, he had 11 goals and 33 points to help Halifax to the President Cup. He then won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player in the Memorial Cup after connecting for seven goals and 13 points in four games.

In two games against the Portland Winterhawks -- and Jones -- in the Memorial Cup tournament, MacKinnon produced six goals and nine points.

"We understand and we believe Seth is going to be a good player as well, a very good defenseman in this League," Sakic said. "But for us, we had our internal meetings, and when you're picking No. 1 you want to be able to pick who you believe is going to be the best player in the draft, so that was why we made that decision."

MacKinnon is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same place Crosby calls home. Not only that, when MacKinnon turned 14, he left home to play at the Minnesota prep school, Shattuck-St. Mary's, where Crosby spent some of his early years. In the spring of 2011, MacKinnon was selected first in the QMJHL draft, just as Crosby had been eight years earlier.

What does Sakic think of the comparison of MacKinnon to Crosby, the 2007 Hart Trophy winner and four- time NHL All-Star?

"[Nathan has] been through it quite a while now and he's risen every occasion," he said. "What you like about him is he's played in the moment and whenever that moment is there he rises to the occasion, brings it to another level."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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