Colorado Is On The Clock
It’s been nearly four years since someone other than the Edmonton Oilers has held the first overall selection in the National Hockey League Draft. Later this month the Colorado Avalanche will make the first pick after winning the draft lottery, in what was probably their greatest accomplishment in a dismal season.
The Avalanche, however, won’t have an easy choice when making their selection. This year’s draft holds anything but a clear cut number one player. Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon are both worthy of the distinction of going first overall and Colorado will have a difficult time figuring out who to pick. Jones was ranked by many, including the International Scouting Services, as the number one prospect heading into the Memorial Cup, but MacKinnon’s strong play at the tournament has now vaulted him into the top position.
MacKinnon posted 13 points in just four games as the Halifax Mooseheads won their first ever Memorial Cup. His three goals and five points in the title game against Jones’ Portland Winterhawks really cemented MacKinnon as a potential franchise player. As well as MacKinnon played, it’s not like Jones performed poorly either. Whether or not he goes to the Avalanche or the Florida Panthers at number two, someone is going to get a defenseman that will anchor their blue line for a long time.
From a fantasy hockey perspective, Colorado’s decision will have major implications for poolies. Both Jones and MacKinnon figure to jump straight into the NHL and with their skill sets they should influence many of the players around them. Drafting a defenseman or a forward will have a very different impact on the Avalanche skaters.
Let’s assume that the Avalanche select Jones, which would actually make a lot of sense considering they already have a decent young forward group and could use an upgrade on defense. They only got five goals from the entire defensive unit this year and only Tyson Barrie had more than a single tally. According to ISS, Jones is listed just under 6-foot-4 and at 208lbs, so adding him would give Colorado a sizeable blue line with four players above 6-foot-3. They would also have plenty of options on who to play Jones with.
If they wanted to try and jumpstart Erik Johnson, then putting him with Jones might do just that. The former first round pick failed to score this season and had just four points in 31 games. Johnson hasn’t regained the form he had early on in his career when he was a 30-plus point man in St. Louis, but playing with Jones in power play situations could change things. Jones has a booming and accurate shot that would look great on a one-timer off of a Johnson pass. If the two do see time together, expect Johnson’s assists and power play points to go up.
Jones is also known to throw his weight around, so if Colorado wanted they could perhaps put him with Shane O’Brien, Greg Zanon, or Jan Hejda in an attempt to form a shutdown pair. The Avs were 27th in goals against this season so developing a group that can slow down opponents is key. If they do use Jones in this way expect his point totals to take a hit, but he should get plenty of hits and blocks going up against top-six forward lines and elite players.
One off the board strategy the Avalanche could look at with Jones is to partner him with Barrie. Playing two youngsters together might not be the smartest idea in the world, but the 21-year-old emerged this year with 13 points in 32 games to lead the Colorado defense. Both Jones and Barrie could combine to create havoc for the opposition from an offensive standpoint, but their plus/minus rating would probably suffer overall.
As much as the Avalanche could use a defenseman, it’s going to be tough to pass up the right-handed MacKinnon. Adding a centre of his calibre to the already talented young forward group of the Avalanche would just make them that much more dangerous. Their current forward group boasts Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, and Paul Stastny, who all shoot left. Putting a right-handed shot like MacKinnon with that group just makes them more threatening.
If Colorado was smart they would move MacKinnon to the wing, at least at the start of his career. The Avs actually have decent depth at centre and playing the wing for a rookie is a lot less responsibility. Could you imagine if MacKinnon joined P.A. Parenteau and Duchene on their line? In 2013 Parenteau and Duchene each had 43 points and were both on pace for 73 point seasons if it were an 82-game campaign, and that was with Jamie McGinn as the third member of their line. Nothing against McGinn, as he actually posted an impressive 128 shots in 2013, but he doesn’t have the skill set of MacKinnon and isn’t as versatile. Duchene and Parenteau could see an increase in points playing with MacKinnon, or at the very least continue on their current pace.
If the Avalanche don’t want to put the pressure of performing with a top line on MacKinnon right away, they could choose to play him in the second unit with Landeskog and O’Reilly. Those two are a bit more reliable defensively than Duchene and Parenteau, so they would help MacKinnon’s plus/minus. Conversely, MacKinnon could help Landeskog bounce back from a slightly down year offensively.
Moving down the Colorado depth chart even further you will find Paul Stastny. Much like Jones might be able to help revive Johnson’s career on the blue line, could MacKinnon do the same thing for Stastny? At one point Stastny was a 70-plus point player, but his numbers have dropped considerably in recent years. Twice in his career he has posted at least 50 assists in a season and playing with someone like MacKinnon who can find the back of the net on a regular basis, may be able to re-ignite some of that form. If nothing else, the Avs could try them together in some power play scenarios where there is more ice to work with.
Now that Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have been brought into the fold to put their own stamp on the Avalanche, this pick will go along way in shaping the future of the organization. Sakic is familiar with Jones because of when his father (Popeye Jones) played for the Denver Nuggets. He asked Sakic about how to get his son into hockey after he took an interest in the sport, and the rest is history. Roy on the other hand would know MacKinnon quite well because of his time in the QMJHL coaching the Quebec Remparts.
Whatever decision the organization makes will probably be a good one. It’s hard to imagine going wrong with either selection and both players should help the fantasy numbers of several Avalanche players. At least that’s what poolies are banking on.
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