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Avalanche select Nathan MacKinnon first overall in NHL draft

Nathan Mackinnon poses with Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy and executive vice-president of hockey operations Joe Sakic after he was selected by the Avalanche as the first overall pick in the 2013 National Hockey league draft in Newark, N.J., June 30, 2013

The Colorado Avalanche called their shot.

With the first pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft on Sunday, the Avs new brass of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy ushered in a new era for the franchise by making Halifax Mooseheads star Nathan MacKinnon the first overall pick.

The selection hardly came as a surprise, as Sakic and Roy had been musing in the media for weeks that MacKinnon was their man, which originally came as a surprise given highly touted defenceman Seth Jones has ties to the Denver area.

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MacKinnon is believed to be a sure-fire star, a dynamic and explosive centre who dominated at the Memorial Cup this year with 13 points in four games and has long been compared to Sidney Crosby given both hail from Cole Harbour, N.S.

While MacKinnon doesn't have the top end talent of Crosby, he projects to be a difference maker and top line centre in the very near future and will step right into the NHL next season.

MacKinnon received a text message from Crosby wishing him luck soon after the pick was made.

"This is unbelievable," MacKinnon said. "I've dreamed about this moment for the majority of my life, and for it to finally come true and to be part of an organization like this is definitely surreal."

Part of what made MacKinnon so desirable to the Avs was the fact Roy had watched him so closely. As the coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts in the same junior league, he had a first row seat for many of the talented teen's exploits.

"I blacked out a little bit, but he just said congratulations," MacKinnon said of the first words he heard from Roy. "He's very excited about this, like me.

"I'm pretty familiar with him," he added. "I know his systems pretty well, just from studying against him in the [2012] playoffs. I'm not sure if they're going to be the same or not, but I know his style. He's a very competitive guy, and his will to win is second to none, so I'm very excited to play for him."

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While the Avs are loaded with centres and appeared to have a bigger need on defence, Avs director of scouting Rick Pracey said Sunday that MacKinnon was hard to overlook.

"We are thrilled to be adding Nathan," Pracey said. "He's a skilled forward with elite skating ability and speed. He plays an aggressive, attacking game and can elevate his game when his team needs it most."

While the first pick wasn't a surprise, the draft held plenty of intrigue further down the line.

The Florida Panthers had the first one, as they took Finnish centre Aleksander Barkov second overall, which then led to Jones dropping down to the Nashville Predators in fourth after being projected to go No. 1 in the months leading up to the draft.

Most of those projections also had Barkov slipping to fourth or fifth, but his combination of size, scoring ability and defensive smarts proved too much to ignore for Panthers GM Dale Tallon.

Barkov had nearly a point a game in Finland's top league as a 17-year-old and has been compared by some scouts to Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, which is exactly what the talent strapped Panthers could use after a disastrous season.

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Tampa Bay Lightning then took Halifax's Jonathan Drouin at No. 3 – adding yet another scoring forward to play with Steven Stamkos – to get the player they had targeted coming in.

The Predators weren't expecting to have a shot at Jones, but GM David Poile didn't hesitate to make the pick given he had him ranked first overall.

Jones dominated the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks and had one of the best junior seasons for a draft eligible defenceman in ages, but with so many high picks on blueliners not working out in recent years, the top three teams believed the forwards were more sure things.

Now Nashville benefits, as Jones will step right into the NHL on a blueline anchored by Shea Weber.

"I'm competitive by nature," Jones said. "I get that from my parents. You definitely want to prove [the teams that didn't take him] wrong. You definitely want to show they should have taken you."

The first Canadian teams to pick made relatively safe selections at sixth and seventh, with the Calgary Flames taking Ottawa 67's centre Sean Monahan and the Edmonton Oilers opting for big Sault Ste. Marie defenceman Darnell Nurse.

After back to back OHL seasons with 78 points, Monahan said Sunday he believes he can step directly into the NHL, with his strong two-way game allowing him to contribute beyond providing offence.

"I'm looking forward to it," Monahan said. "It's going to be a challenge… That's my goal. I want to play [in the NHL] this year and, if I can, make an impact and be a reliable player."

Vancouver then used the pick acquired from the host New Jersey Devils for goaltender Cory Schneider to take London Knights centre Bo Horvat.

First round selections:

1. Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon

2. Florida: Aleksander Barkov

3. Tampa Bay: Jonathan Drouin

4. Nashville: Seth Jones

5. Carolina: Elias Lindholm

6. Calgary: Sean Monahan

7. Edmonton: Darnell Nurse

8. Buffalo: Rasmus Ristolainen

9. Vancouver (from New Jersey): Bo Horvat

10. Dallas: Valeri Nichushkin

11. Philadelphia: Samuel Morin

12. Phoenix: Max Domi

13. Winnipeg: Joshua Morrissey

14. Columbus: Alexander Wennberg

15. New York Islanders: Ryan Pulock

16. Buffalo: Nikita Zadorov

17. Ottawa: Curtis Lazar

18. San Jose (from Detroit): Mirco Mueller

19. Columbus: Kerby Rychel

20. Detroit: Anthony Mantha

21. Toronto: Frederik Gauthier

22. Calgary: Emile Poirier

23. Washington: Andre Burakovsky

24. Vancouver: Hunter Shinkaruk

25. Montreal: Michael McCarron

26. Anaheim: Shea Theodore

27. Columbus: Marko Dano

28. Calgary: Morgan Klimchuk

29. Dallas: Jason Dickinson

30. Chicago: Ryan Hartman

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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