Not that they had to prove their value as top prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft, but Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads have spent the duration of the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup wowing the NHL scouts in attendance with their well-rounded skill sets.
They'll have one final chance to showcase themselves Sunday when Portland and Halifax meet in the Memorial Cup championship game (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).
Jones, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater in its final rankings, has a goal and two assists in four games, and his plus-6 rating is tied for the best in the tournament.
MacKinnon has lived up to his star offensive billing, with four goals and eight points, tying him for the tournament lead. Three of those goals came in Halifax's 7-4 win against Portland in round-robin play May 18.
One of those goals featured him making a quick move and blowing around Jones for a goal.
Jones said Friday, after his team beat the London Knights 2-1 in the semifinal, that he's planning on staying off any more MacKinnon highlight reels
"Nathan had way too much time with the puck in the first game," Jones told Yahoo! Sports. "He scored a power-play goal, he scored a shorthanded goal as well. We have to eliminate some mistakes."
Jones and MacKinnon don't have much of a rivalry. They've been friends since they were 15-year-old roommates at a summer hockey camp in Los Angeles, and have roomed together at the camp each summer since then.
"We just started bonding and sharing each other’s similarities," Jones told Yahoo! Sports. "It just took off from there."
"I was in bantam and I think [Seth] was coming out of midget," MacKinnon of their first meeting. "But obviously we both wanted to make the NHL one day, like just any other kid. I never thought in a million years it would end up like this, both at the Memorial Cup playing against each other. … It's kind of funny how things turned out."
The Memorial Cup final is just the latest chapter in their head-to-head battles. They met twice at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, with MacKinnon helping Canada to a win against Jones and the United States during the preliminary round. Jones got his revenge with a 5-1 win against MacKinnon in the semifinals, en route to leading the United States to the gold medal. A few weeks later they were captains on opposite sides at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and again Jones came out on top, helping Team Orr to a 3-0 victory against MacKinnon's Team Cherry.
When not playing against each other, the pair has kept tabs on each other from afar, as MacKinnon helped Halifax win the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and earn the top ranking in the Canadian Hockey League poll, while Jones helped the Winterhawks win the Western Hockey League title.
"It's tough not to hear about Nathan or Jonathan [Drouin, MacKinnon's Halifax teammate and Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked skater] make a sick move or a highlight-reel goal," Jones said. "It's been pretty easy to keep up with them."
Jones saw one of those slick moves first-hand May 18, when MacKinnon scored three times in a five-goal second-period for the Mooseheads. Will we see more? Or will Jones' all-round game silence the Halifax attack while setting Portland's offense?
MacKinnon said he isn't overly concerned with proving himself against Jones, or changing the minds of NHL scouts.
"I didn't come here trying to prove I should be first [at the draft]," MacKinnon said Thursday. "The biggest game of my junior career is coming up on Sunday and I think everybody’s looking forward to that challenge."
NHL scouts and fans certainly are, as much for the battle between the top prospects as for the chance to see the best junior-hockey team in Canada crowned.
"I read predictions about this game back in October," Portland right wing Ty Rattie said.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor