With little more than a week to go until the NHL entry draft, the Colorado Avalanche appear to be calling their shot with the first-overall pick.
Joe Sakic, the team’s newly promoted vice-president of hockey operations, told the Denver Post this week he intends to bypass Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones – previously the consensus No. 1 pick – for one of the high-powered forwards available.
That’s if they don’t make a deal to drop down to the second or third pick in the draft, which is another much talked about option of late.
“If we do pick first, we’re leaning more toward one of those three forwards,” Sakic said.
Whether or not Sakic is bluffing won’t be revealed until they step to the podium on June 30 in Newark and make their selection, and these type of head games aren’t unusual when it comes to the NHL draft.
It had long been assumed, however, that Jones was the Avs’ man, as he grew up and learned to play hockey in Denver and the team has a need for a big blueliner after finishing last in the Western Conference.
Jones, the son of former NBA player Ronald (Popeye) Jones, is also a physical specimen, one who brings elite skating and playmaking skills and is believed to be a stud defenceman in the making.
But the lure of drafting one of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov Jr. seems too great for the Avs, especially considering forwards at the top end of the draft have turned out to be sure things more often than defencemen in recent years.
There are a number of theories as to why that may be, with the most compelling one that blueliners mature later in their careers and as such are more difficult to project at 17 or 18.
The number of so-so defencemen picked in the top-four spots the last dozen years is a relatively long one, with Rostislav Klesla, Joni Pitkanen, Cam Barker, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Thomas Hickey and Erik Gudbranson all serving as cautionary tales of sorts.
In contrast, high-scoring forwards that have been taken in the top spot in recent years have all emerged as superstars. A run that began with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin going 1-2 at the 2004 draft, continued with Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall selected at first overall between 2005 and 2010.
MacKinnon and Drouin also have the dual advantage of having had their team, the Halifax Mooseheads, beat out the Winterhawks in last month’s Memorial Cup and having played for years in front of new Avs head coach Patrick Roy in the QMJHL.
Roy was previously the coach/GM of the Quebec Remparts, a team that was on the wrong end of several of MacKinnon and Drouin’s offensive assaults the past two years.
MacKinnon, 17, had 153 points in 102 games in his two seasons with the Mooseheadsand drew comparisons to Crosby throughout given both are hockey prodigies from the Halifax area.
Drouin, meanwhile, was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year after breaking out with 41 goals and 105 points in 49 regular-season games.
Add in Barkov, who had nearly a point a game in Finland’s top pro league despite not turning 18 until September, and there’s a lot to like in the top offensive talent available at this year’s draft.
“We feel those three forwards are just too good to pass up,” Sakic said.