SASKATOON, Canada – Nathan MacKinnon had three goals and two assists while teammate Jonathan Drouin had five assists to lead the Halifax Mooseheads to a 6-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks in the Memorial Cup finals.
It was the first Memorial Cup for Halifax and the third year running that a team from the QMJHL has won. The Saint John Sea Dogs were victorious in 2011 and the Shawinigan Cataractes last year.
As important, it was a game that pitted the three players who will be vying to be the first overall draft choice at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. MacKinnon was the leading scorer of the tournament and named MVP, and at age 17 he is the youngest of the three.
More incredibly, MacKinnon hails from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, a town outside Halifax that boasts only 25,000 souls, two of whom are MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. MacKinnon, like Sid the Kid, left Cole Harbour early in his teen years to play at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, in Faribault, Minnesota. And now, because he was born September 1, he becomes eligible for the draft at 17, one of the youngest players available. He will almost certainly be playing in the NHL this fall. The only question is, for which team?
Drouin has also just finished only his second year in the Q, leading the league in scoring. He has developed by leaps and bounds over the season, and while he might have been a top-10 or top-5 prospect at the start of the year, he is neck and neck with MacKinnon and Jones as draft day approaches.
Seth Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, was born in Texas. Seth grew up in Denver, where Popeye played with the Nuggets, and was encouraged at a young age by Joe Sakic. The younger Jones played for two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, winning two gold medals at the U18 championship, in 2011 and 2012. This year, Jones opted to play Canadian junior hockey over NCAA college hockey. He helped the Americans to a stunning gold medal at the U20 in Ufa, Russia, and then led the Winterhawks to the final game of the junior calendar.
Had the NHL draft taken place after Ufa, Jones would surely have been taken first overall, followed by Drouin and MacKinnon. While Jones was dominant at the U20, Drouin was impressive to a far lesser degree and coach Steve Spott relegated MacKinnon to the fourth line, all but ignoring MacKinnon’s abilities as an offensive threat.
Now, though, MacKinnon has to be the frontrunner for, ironically, the Avs, who won the first overall selection via lottery last month. His ability to make plays at top speed and his determination to take the puck to the net are Crosby-like in scope and success. Drouin is a sensational playmaker and Jones has size and skill from the blue line. All three are destined to be stars, but only one will be called first overall at the draft.
For now, though, MacKinnon has the upper hand thanks to a sensational Memorial Cup.