TORONTO -- Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin have struck up a solid friendship while going through the hoopla surrounding the buildup to the 2013 NHL Draft.
However, that doesn't change the fact that NHL Central Scouting's top three North American skaters in their final rankings are extremely competitive, and hearing their name called first June 30 at Prudential Center is something each would like to have on his resume.
"Obviously everyone wants to go No. 1," Drouin told NHL.com. "I'm pretty sure they want to, and it's the same thing for me. To be No. 1 is a big thing. It would be an honor."
Drouin, No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's list, had a season to remember in 2012-13. The Halifax Mooseheads left wing was second in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 105 points in 49 games and topped the league with 35 points in 17 playoff games to help his team win the championship.
He was named QMJHL MVP and player of the year in the Canadian Hockey League, and went on to help Halifax win its first Memorial Cup, tying a tournament record with five assists in the championship game, where the Mooseheads defeated Jones and the Portland Winterhawks 6-4 on May 26.
Among the assists was a 75-foot flip pass out of the Halifax zone that landed just inside the Portland blue line and led to a goal by MacKinnon.
"That was unbelievable," MacKinnon told NHL.com. "He's like a quarterback out there throwing me a long Hail Mary pass. It landed right in front of me. I knew it was coming and I was just waiting for it."
MacKinnon said the play was something they had tried in practice, but never used in a game -- let alone the third period of the championship of the Memorial Cup.
"It just speaks volumes about what kind of guy he is," MacKinnon said. "He's incredible."
It's the kind of magic MacKinnon has seen a lot in two seasons as Drouin's teammate.
"He's an unbelievable player," MacKinnon said. "He's got some puck skills I've never seen before. He can do some things that I've never seen. It's great watching him, especially in practice, do his thing, deke around out there. Not just for me, but for the rest of the team. It pushes you to get better and work hard."
MacKinnon accomplished his share of good things this season. Ranked second by NHL Central Scouting, he had 75 points in 44 regular-season games, and 33 in 17 playoff games. He joined Drouin on Canada's team at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship and captained a team at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
He capped his season with a hat trick and two assists against Portland in the Memorial Cup championship game. His tournament-high 13 points was the most by any player since 1997, and he was named the tournament's best player.
In two games against Jones and Portland, MacKinnon had a pair of hat tricks and nine points.
"He's very dynamic, very unpredictable," Jones told NHL.com about MacKinnon. "He has a lot of speed, he can make passes. He's a playmaker. He can shoot and score the puck like we saw in the [Memorial Cup] finals, [like] the first one he scored in the slot under pressure. He's tough to contain even down low; he can find areas to get to and score goals. That's what he does: He's a goal-scorer and a playmaker and obviously a great player."
Jones topped Central Scouting's rankings after an outstanding first season with the Winterhawks, when he finished fourth among Western Hockey League defensemen with 56 points in 61 games, and had a plus-46 rating. He had seven points and a plus-8 rating in seven games to help the United States win the gold medal at the World Juniors, and was captain of the team opposite MacKinnon at the Top Prospects Game.
Jones was named the top professional prospect in the CHL and was nominated for the CHL rookie of the year award. He had four points and a plus-6 rating in five games at the Memorial Cup.
"Seth is a huge defenseman, but he moves like he's 5-8," MacKinnon said of Jones, who is 6-4. "It's like he moves like he's Duncan Keith but has the size like Chris Pronger. He's unbelievable. He's the complete package. Whoever gets him is very lucky."
Drouin said, "Everyone knows Jones is a smart defenseman. He's offensive-minded too. … Seth is a great defenseman, hard to play against, got a good stick, got a long reach. He's pretty physical too. It was a great tournament for him too."
During a press conference Thursday to announce the three top prospects individually signed to endorse Reebok-CCM hockey equipment and apparel, Jones was seated between MacKinnon and Drouin, four days after they went head-to-head in the Memorial Cup title game.
"They have bragged a couple times," Jones jokingly said. "They're good guys. We're obviously friends off the ice, but when it came on the ice we were competitive guys. These guys had a heck of a tournament."
MacKinnon said the chest-thumping was kept to a minimum for one important reason.
"We don't have much bragging rights," he said. "Seth won the World Juniors."
Their on-ice exploits ended when the final horn sounded at the Memorial Cup. The past few days have been spent meeting with NHL teams, and next comes medical and fitness testing Friday. Though the three players will take part in medical evaluations, their participation in the fitness testing portion is uncertain; all three admitted to being tired from a long season.
"My body is definitely worn down," Jones said. "I played over 90 games this year, in a short period of time with a lot of travel, lot of time-zone changes."
However, after the stellar season they each had, there's not much more they need to prove. It's just a question of who hears his name called first.
"It would mean a lot, for sure," MacKinnon said. "That's what you think about as a kid, going No. 1. At the same time I'm aware I'll be the same player coming out of the draft as I am going into it, no matter how high I go and what team picks me. It's going to be a great experience. Going No. 1 would be special, but I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't."
Jones, who was born in the Denver area and learned to play hockey there, said being No. 1 would be extra special because the Colorado Avalanche have the first pick, but said whatever happens at the draft is only the start. It's the end point that really matters.
"I just want to play in the NHL," Jones said. "That's all I want to do -- doesn't matter where I go. My dream is to play in the NHL, as quickly as possible, whoever it might be with."
His friends MacKinnon and Drouin would certainly agree.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor