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Hartnett: 2013 NHL Draft Will Have Its Share Of Intrigue And Surprises

'The Big 3' And Big Names On The Move Highlight NHL Draft Weekend
Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Darnell Nurse and Jonathan Drouin at Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final at the TD Garden. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)

Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Darnell Nurse and Jonathan Drouin at Game Three of the Stanley Cup Final at the TD Garden. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)

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By Sean Hartnett
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WHO’S No. 1 — MACKINNON OR JONES?

The entire hockey world assumed this would be a ‘no-brainer’ once the Colorado Avalanche were awarded the first overall pick at the 2013 NHL Draft Lottery in late April.

Since Colorado has an obvious need for a franchise defenseman, everyone rushed to the conclusion that physically dominant blueline prospect Seth Jones was the obvious fit. Not so fast…

Colorado’s thought process has changed dramatically since new head coach Patrick Roy was installed and given a huge amount of say in the direction of the franchise.

Roy and general manager Joe Sakic have both hinted that the Avs couldn’t pass up selecting Memorial Cup MVP Nathan MacKinnon.

Have the Avalanche tipped their hand? Probably. MacKinnon has drawn comparisons to fellow Nova Scotia native centerman Sidney Crosby. The  famed comparison isn’t that far off the mark. MacKinnon’s explosive skating ability has drawn rave reviews among scouts and his clutch play at the Memorial Cup has further enhanced his reputation as a gritty goal-getter.

MacKinnon identified the Avalanche as the team he wished to play for as a kid. Perhaps, he will now be the man to help lead Colorado into a new era.

“As a kid, I wanted to play for them,” MacKinnon said on Saturday’s media event in Weehawken, New Jersey. “They were my favorite team. I really liked Joe Sakic.”

Does he think the declarations that Roy and Sakic are ready to select him No. 1 overall are genuine?

“I believe them, for sure,” he stated. “But they could change their mind. They said as of today they would. It’s pretty cool. A lot could change in the next couple of days.”

PANTHERS JONESING FOR ‘POPEYE JUNIOR’

Whoever lands Seth Jones is landing a tremendous talent. That team could very well be the Florida Panthers at No. 2 overall. Jones starred for Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors and brings a rare assemblage of skills to the table. His complete game was on display as he helped the underdog United States earn the gold medal.

“We had an extremely competitive group of guys. I think it definitely showed when it came late in the tournament,” Jones said.

The opportunity to be tested under pressure situations the World Juniors should benefit Jones, who is described as a mature individual.

“We were in a must-win against Czech Republic. We didn’t have a lot of scoring output until that game,” he recalled. “From there on, we were just a different team despite losing two games in the round-robin. Then we played Canada, I thought we played great. I thought got on them quick. It was tough for them to come back and Sweden as well — we played a great game against them.”

He has everything you want in a defenseman — an effortless stride, athleticism, puck-moving skills and ideal size. Jones has been compared to former Hart Trophy winning defenseman Chris Pronger. Should Jones fall to the Panthers, they’ll be very pleased to grab the son of Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones.

LIGHTNING LIKELY LANDING SPOT FOR DROUIN

After MacKinnon and Jones are off the board, it’s highly-likely that the Tampa Bay Lightning will sue the third overall pick to select winger Jonathan Drouin, who might be the most eye-catching player in the draft.

Drouin likes to try exciting moves when he’s on the puck. His flashy array of talents became a YouTube sensation. He likes to model his game after exciting Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.

“He was my idol,” Drounin said of Datsyuk. “Even when I was growing up, he was one of the players I watched. Right now, that’s the guy I really look forward to watching when a game’s on TV.”

He’ll fit right in with Steven Stamkos and the high-flying Lightning.

BIG STARS ON THE MOVE?

Kris Letang rejected an eight-year, $56 million extension from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Should Letang continue to push for an annual salary near $8 million, this could play out similar to last year’s draft when the Pens moved Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Letang’s situation will be monitored closely by the busiest team at the NHL Draft — The Toronto Maple Leafs. The phone of Toronto GM Dave Nonis will be buzzing all weekend as he’s declared that none of his players are untouchable.

Expect to see many players moving in and out of Toronto as the weekend progresses. That being said, it would be difficult to imagine the Leafs dealing away captain Dion Phaneuf.

“I don’t envision moving Dion. I think he’s going to be here,” Nonis told CBC. “With that said, we can’t say there isn’t a player that we wouldn’t move if it actually benefited the team. I think all of our players understand it and they expect it.”

One player I don’t see changing addresses at the draft is Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. His complicated situation hasn’t changed. The Canucks are still demanding a high draft pick and a third-line center and Luongo can dictate where he goes through his no-trade clause.

“We’re going to try and accomplish that goal,” Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun. “We’ll see what happens.”

Strangely enough, the two teams most interested in Luongo are his two former employers in the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.

Once thought unimaginable, Gillis has been floating the possibility of moving starting goalie Cory Schneider should all attempts to move Luongo prove futile.

You never know which unexpected players will get dangled in trade talks at the draft. This makes Sunday’s draft day all the more dramatic. Bruins duo Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin have emerged as players who are on the trade block. According to TSN insider Bob McKenzie, Horton has informed GM Peter Chiarelli he intends to pursue free agency. Seguin could be moved to clear up space as the Bruins have a number of players unsigned and main priority is to extend center Patrice Bergeron.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings planning to trade center Valtteri Filppula’s rights should they not come to an agreement. Their option of moving Filppula has become a lot easier as they’ll be a prime candidate to make a run at bought out star center Vincent Lecavalier.

After the draft concludes, all attention will turn to Lecavalier, who will garner tremendous attention for his services in free agency. The Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings are expected to lead the chase. Lecavalier will command a high total salary and lengthy deal — considering the thin talent pool and the New York Rangers opting to retain Brad Richards.

Follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.

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