TORONTO – Just days after the Memorial Cup, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin remain squarely in the hockey limelight.
Jones, the Portland Winterhawks defenceman rated the top North American draft prospect by NHL Central Scouting, has gone through interviews with 17 teams at this week’s NHL Combine. MacKinnon, the smooth centre from the Halifax Mooseheads rated second by Central Scouting, has also had 17 interviews.
Drouin, a high-scoring winger from the Memorial Cup champion Mooseheads rated the No. 3 prospect, had 19 interviews.
Some 100 prospects are at the combine, where the focus switches from interviews to fitness testing Friday and Saturday.
Jones wasn’t sure how many of the fitness tests he would do, saying his body was “definitely worn down” having played more than 90 games this year. Drouin seemed ready for anything.
The real test will come June 30 at the NHL draft at the Prudential Centre in Newark, N.J. Colorado picks first, followed by Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Carolina.
“It still feels a little surreal that the draft is coming so close now,” said the six-foot-four, 205-pound Jones, a native of Frisco, Texas, who turns 19 on Oct. 3.
“Anything can happen,” said Drouin, pointing to potential trades.
Asked about the toughest question he faced from an NHL team interviewer, Jones paused but couldn’t pick one.
“A lot of tough questions,” he said. “They try to trick you all the time.”
The son of former NBAer and current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones, he had 14 goals and 42 assists in the WHL this season. He took up hockey in Denver while his father played for the Nuggets but said his interview with the Avalanche was no different than any other interview.
“They didn’t treat me special or anything from what I’ve heard from other players,” said Jones, a definite chip off Popeye’s block in terms of facial looks. “A lot of the same questions as everyone else.”
The six-foot, 182-pound MacKinnon was taken aback when one team asked him what kind of hockey player he would be if he couldn’t skate.
“It tricked me a little but because my whole game is around speed,” he said. “A tough one to answer.”
MacKinnon, a native of Cole Harbour, N.S., who doesn’t turn 18 until Oct. 1, had 32 goals and 43 assists in the QMJHL this season.
Drouin, who is listed at 5-10 and 186 pounds, said his toughest question was what kind of player he would be if he didn’t have hands—presumably soft hands.
“Hard question to answer,” he said. “Probably chip the puck in and go.”
Drouin, a native of Huberdeau, Que., who turned 18 on March 27, clearly has good hands. He collected 41 goals and 64 assists, winning CHL player of the year honours.
The top three prospects are already getting a taste of what awaits young hockey stars. On Thursday evening, they were introduced as the new faces of Reebok-CCM.
Sitting next to each other in Reebok gear at an airport hotel, it was clear they get on—despite Halifax’s 6-4 win over Portland in Sunday’s Memorial Cup final.
“They have bragged a couple of times,” joked Jones.
MacKinnon and Drouin noted that Jones had one over them as a member of the world junior champion Americans.
The three young guns will showcase Reebok-CCM equipment including the CCM RBZ skate and CCM RBZ Stage 2 stick (whose top of the line model will cost $299 when it hits stores in July), joining the likes of Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at Reebok-CCM, which is looking to focus attention on CCM as its hockey brand.
Philippe Dube, president and CEO of Reebok-CCM Hockey, would not detail the length of the three prospects’ contracts but said such agreements usually were for two to three years, with the hope of turning it into a long-term relationship.
MacKinnon, who says he doesn’t mind being called Nate or Nathan, said it was his first endorsement deal. He is used to the attention back in Halifax but says he likes being away from the spotlight.
“For me, I’m just a regular 17-year-old. I like to hang with my friends and have some fun, just relax.”
The draft will likely split up the two Mooseheads teammates, who used to go to practice together in MacKinnon’s Ford Escape SUV.