Seth Jones called his trip to the top of the Empire State Building on Thursday “too scary to ever do again.” But the 6-4, 205-pound defenseman originally from Texas will be sitting on top of the world once again Sunday in Newark if he’s selected first overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL draft, becoming the first African-American ever to be taken No. 1.
Jones, 18, a three-time gold medalist with Team USA — one at the World Junior Championships and two at the IIHF World U18 Championship — is the son of former NBA forward and recently fired Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones.
Jones will have to beat out Nathan MacKinnon, 17, a 6-0, 182-pound Canadian-born center who many expect to go first overall, in which case the Florida Panthers would waste no time pouncing on Jones at No. 2.
Both talents are intent on contributing right away.
“I want to be more than ready,” MacKinnon told NHL.com. “I don’t want to just hang on in the NHL next year and kind of watch.”
But no one can blame Hall of Famers Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, now running the Avalanche, for leaning towards MacKinnon, who hails from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same hometown as Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. MacKinnon led the Halifax Mooseheads to this year’s Memorial Cup, winning the tournament’s MVP award and recording a hat trick and five points in the championship game over Jones’ Portland Winterhawks.
The likely top of the draft is rounded out by left wing Jonathan Drouin, 18 (5-11, 186 pounds) from Quebec, and defenseman Darnell Nurse, 18, (6-4, 193), an Ontario product and the nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images
The top four prospects catch a view of New York City atop the Empire State Building.
The Devils, who are hosting the draft, own the ninth pick and reportedly are most interested in drafting a forward, since they are top heavy at the position, paying Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac a combined $ 12.4 million per year. But Nurse grew up rooting for New Jersey and likely would be too good to pass up if he fell.
The Devils also own an early second-round pick (39th overall), an early fourth-round pick (100th) and an early sixth-round selection (160th). Previously held third-, fifth- and seventh-round picks are gone to Minnesota, Buffalo and Winnipeg via trade, respectively.
The Rangers’ goal in this draft, meanwhile, likely will be to shore up depth on defense and perhaps in goal, considering the limited firepower they have on the draft board. Of course, there is always the possibility of a draft-day splash deal.
Due to trades in 2012 and 2013, however, the Blueshirts do not have a pick until their three third-round selections. Their earliest pick is 65th overall, acquired from Nashville for the 89th overall selection in the 2012 draft. Perhaps if they make a trade or the puck bounces their way, they’ll be able to snag Bronxville product Steven Santini, 18, a righthanded shooting defenseman ranked No. 47 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He lists the Blueshirts as his favorite team.
The Rangers own Columbus’ 75th overall selection from the Rick Nash trade, since they didn’t advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in year one, plus their original picks in the fourth (110th) and sixth rounds (170th).
Normally the Blueshirts would have a lot more to work with, but they packaged the rest of their picks in trades: the first-rounder (19th overall) for Nash, both the second-rounder (49th) and third-rounder (62nd) for Ryane Clowe, the fifth-rounder to Nashville for last year’s 142nd pick, and the seventh-rounder to Minnesota for since-traded minor-league forward Casey Wellman.
The Islanders need depth across the board, particularly in net, but all three NHL.com mock drafts project GM Garth Snow selecting a forward with their 15th overall selection. They’ll then draft in the third (76th), fourth (106th), fifth (136th), sixth (166th) and seventh (196th) rounds. The Isles’ previously held second-round pick (45th overall) belongs to Anaheim.
Anthony Brodeur, 18, the son of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, is not ranked in the top 40 North American goaltending prospects but will be on hand in his first year of draft eligibility and could be a late-round pick.