Could the Colorado Avalanche have made a decision on whom to take with the first pick of the 2013 NHL Draft?
During an appearance on "Xfinity Monday Live" on Denver's CBS affiliate Monday, Avalanche executive vice-president of hockey operations Joe Sakic said if the draft were held Monday, the team would select Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon.
Sakic previously identified forwards MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov as the team's top candidates. Asked if MacKinnon was the best bet of that trio, Sakic said, "I think if we had to do it today, right now, he would probably be the guy, yes." He quickly added, "But we still have some time."
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy had a similar response in an ESPN.com interview Monday, saying, "It would be tough for us not to take MacKinnon. MacKinnon is ready to play tomorrow."
MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, is No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. He had 32 goals, 43 assists and a plus-40 rating in 44 regular-season games, then had 33 points in 17 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff games to help his team win the championship.
He then had an eye-opening performance leading Halifax to the Memorial Cup championship, totaling 13 points in four games, including a hat trick and two assists in the championship game. That performance seems to have intrigued Sakic the most.
"Nathan MacKinnon, we saw what he did at the Memorial Cup," he said. "He's always, ever since he's been a kid, been able to elevate his game. That's one thing I like about him -- it doesn’t matter about the moment, the time, he looks forward to that, he cherishes that. He's lived under the microscope of being the next [Sidney] Crosby (MacKinnon and Crosby are from the same hometown, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia) and he's done pretty well with that. I'm not saying he will [be the next Crosby], but he's got a lot of upside."
Roy knows MacKinnon well from coaching against him with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. He can envision MacKinnon centering the Avalanche's third line next season.
"It would be great for MacKinnon to start there. Less pressure," Roy said. "It's the perfect fit for him."
MacKinnon told NHL.com during the NHL Scouting Combine that being picked first, and playing for Roy, would be something he'd enjoy.
"He'd be a great person to develop under," MacKinnon said of Roy. "He has a very competitive nature and I think I have that, too, so I think it'd go really well. He wants to win and I'd love to play for him. It'd be great."
There's no guarantee the Avalanche will still hold the first pick when the draft starts June 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
"We're looking forward to getting to New Jersey and we know we're going got get some offers and listen to some calls," Sakic said. "If not, we're very happy picking No. 1. We're going to be flexible and do whatever is best for our franchise. … Our intention is to make the pick. Having a chance to pick No. 1 is pretty special for any organization, but we'd be going a disservice if we didn't listen to offers. If we get some offers and it's too good to pass up, we'll do what's best for our organization."
Roy, in his role as vice president of hockey operations, has heard from teams possibly interested in trading for the top pick.
"We have received a lot of calls," he said. "Joe has received some. I have received some. It's important for us to see, 'What can we do to make our team better?' We have to look at all options. We can't just close our eyes and say, 'Let's just take a player.'"
Picking MacKinnon would mean bypassing a chance to select Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, Central Scouting's top-rated player. Jones has a connection to Sakic and the Denver area: Jones first learned to play hockey while living in the Denver area, and it was Sakic who told Jones' father, former NBA power forward Popeye Jones, to make sure his three hockey-playing sons -- Seth, 19, is the middle of three brothers -- take skating lessons.
The 6-foot-3.5, 205-pound blueliner had 14 goals, 42 assists and a plus-40 rating in 61 regular-season games, his first in the Western Hockey League, and helped Portland reach the championship game of the Memorial Cup, where they lost to MacKinnon's Halifax team. Jones helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"Obviously we feel he [Jones] is going to have a real good career as well," Sakic said, "but after doing our homework, we believe that these forwards are too good to pass up now."