As Saturday quickly approaches, Nathan MacKinnon needn’t be reminded about the escalating hype.
All eyes will be on the Halifax Mooseheads’ blue-chipper and the Portland Winterhawks’ stud defenceman Seth Jones when the widely predicted No.1 and No.2 NHL draft picks clash at the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
“I want to be N0. 1; I’m a competitor and I want to prove that I can be No. 1,” admitted MacKinnon, who was projected as the No. 2 pick, just behind Jones, in the NHL’s final Central Scouting rankings.
Playing in the biggest spectacle in junior hockey, the Herd’s 17-year-old forward is fired up for the opportunity to make a lasting impression with the draft right around the corner. But he believes that can only happen if he approaches the four-team tournament focused solely on winning games, not on Seth Jones.
“Really, I just want to win a Memorial Cup. Seth’s a great player. We’ll play each other 20 or 30 times during the night, and it’s going to be a challenge; he’s a tough guy to play against.”
The pair squared off at the world juniors earlier this year, where Jones led the U.S. to a championship, while MacKinnon, who played a limited checking role with Team Canada, came home empty-handed.
“He was running the power play and I wasn’t, you could say that; I’ll leave it at that.”
The high-flying forward won’t have to worry about ice time this time around.
And he’ll have the help of his linemate Jonathan Drouin, a projected top-five pick, who could very well go No. 3.
“Potentially the top three picks are going to be playing in the same game. It’s going to be more open hockey, the kind I like.”
Mooseheads head coach Dominique Ducharme isn’t worried about his young talent.
“I don’t think Nate sees it as Nate against Seth Jones,” said Ducharme. “Yes, Jones is playing for Portland and everything else, but Nate is really focused on winning.”