HALIFAX - The Halifax Mooseheads finally got their man Wednesday, acquiring the rights to centre Nathan MacKinnon — the first overall pick in the 2011 QMJHL entry draft by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
In exchange, the Mooseheads sent Carl Gelinas, Francis Turbide and three first-round picks to Baie-Comeau for the multi-skilled centre from Cole Harbour, N.S.
The Mooseheads and Rimouski Oceanic were among the clubs that made offers to Baie-Comeau for the first overall pick prior to the draft.
"We've been after him for quite a while," said Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell. "We were talking about trading for him at the draft. It didn't happen, but we stuck with it and got to the point where we had the players and picks to offer."
MacKinnon prompted the trade by refusing to report to Baie-Comeau. Russell said MacKinnon had told him before the draft he would be willing to play for Halifax.
The five-foot-10, 170-pound centre's hockey path has closely followed that of fellow Cole Harbour native Sidney Crosby. MacKinnon, 16, grew up playing in the same minor hockey system and then jumped to Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Faribeault, Minn.
He also has Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, as his adviser.
MacKinnon had 45 goals and 93 points in 40 games this season.
"He's a big, strong, fast-skating power forward," added Russell. "Great shot, great moves. They both have excellent skill sets, with Crosby being maybe more of a playmaker, but you hate to throw comparisons out there. It's not fair to the kid. He's just the best kid at his age right now."
Halifax had picks to spare after sending Adam Erne to Quebec on Monday. The Mooseheads acquired two first-round picks and a second-rounder from the Remparts for Erne, taken 22nd overall in the draft.
They pulled off the deal without giving up Jonathan Drouin, the left winger they got second overall in the draft. Now Russell hopes he has a group of young players that will grow together in the next two or three years. MacKinnon will be eligible for the 2013 NHL draft.
It should mark a turnaroud for a franchise that has been at or near the bottom of the league for most of the last three seasons.
"We'll have two guys that are really going to help our team," said Russell. "We've got a lot of young guys on our team now.
"All those kids together are going to make us a stronger, more competitive team. The best marketing tool we can have is winning."
MacKinnon played for Nova Scotia at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax in February.
"He's a local kid, which is always nice, but when it's a kid of his calibre it makes it even more exciting," said Russell.
The trade was announced ahead of the league's trade window.
"Due to exceptional circumstances, the League has given the organizations the right to unveil the details of the trade prior to the opening of the trade period on Aug. 1," QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said in a release.
The league did not specify the reasons.
Baie-Comeau receives the Moosehead's first round picks in 2012 and 2013 and Quebec's 2013 first-rounder, as well as 19-year-old Gelinas, the Mooseheads' 2010-11 player of the year, and 18-year-old checking centre Turbide.