Joe Sakic is sticking to his belief that the Colorado Avalanche will use the first pick of the 2013 NHL Draft on a forward, bypassing defenseman Seth Jones, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated player.
If the Avalanche keep the pick.
In an interview with ESPN.com on Thursday, Sakic, executive vice president of hockey operations for the Avalanche, reiterated what he told the Denver Post on Tuesday, that Colorado would select Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov if it holds on to the first pick.
"[Jones] is a great player, he's going to be good," Sakic told the website. "But after we had our internal meetings we came up with these three forwards: MacKinnon, Drouin and Barkov. We're really leaning towards one of those three forwards."
Jones, a 6-foot-3.5, 205-pound blueliner, had 14 goals, 42 assists and a plus-40 rating in 61 regular-season games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League and helped them reach the championship game of the Memorial Cup. He also helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Jones has a connection to Sakic and the Denver region: Jones' father, Popeye Jones, was a forward with Denver Nuggets who sought out Sakic, at the time captain of the Avalanche, for advice on what to do with his three hockey-playing sons. Sakic suggested skating lessons, and years later Seth -- the middle of Popeye's sons (he turns 19 Oct. 3) -- has emerged as arguably the best player in the most talented draft class in at least 10 years.
In addition, Jones would fill a need -- the Avalanche allowed 150 non-shootout goals in this 48-game season, fourth-most in the NHL, and one Avalanche defenseman scored more than one goal (Tyson Barrie, two).
Sakic's pronouncement so soon before the draft, which will be held June 30, was surprising to many.
"It was more really for our fans here, to let our fans know what we're thinking going into the draft," Sakic said. "That's really what the purpose was, let them know where we're leaning. What I said is that we're picking first overall and this is what we're doing."
He also said he would be listening to offers for the top pick.
"Honestly, I don't know what to expect," Sakic said of possible trade options with the first pick. "We'll see when we get there. We're going to do what we feel is best for our organization. If somebody calls, we'll obviously listen. We'll do what's right."
MacKinnon, who turns 18 Sept. 1, completed his second season with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 6-foot, 182-pound center had 32 goals, 43 assists and a plus-40 rating in 44 regular-season games, and after leading Halifax to the QMJHL title with 33 points in 17 playoff games, he added 13 points in four games en route to the Memorial Cup championship and tournament MVP. He's No. 2 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.
Drouin, MacKinnon's teammate in Halifax, led the club 105 points (41 goals, 64 assists) in 49 games, won the QMJHL MVP award, and was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound 18-year-old is No. 3 in Central Scouting's final ranking.
Barkov, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound center who turns 18 Sept. 2, is Central Scouting's top-rated European skater. He had 21 goals and 48 points in 53 games with Tappara in sm-Liiga, Finland's top professional league, and had three goals and four assists in seven games for Finland at the World Junior Championship. He had five assists in five playoff games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury March 27. He had surgery in April and expects to be ready for NHL training camp in September.