It was said that the 2013 NHL Draft would be one of the deepest the league has seen in years. Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones were the talk of the draft class, with the constant debate between the two as to who would go first overall. Though the draft did not play out as expected, with Jones falling to a surprising No. 4, the two players have lived up to the pre-draft hype in their rookie year. They, along with surprising performances from a couple Tampa Bay rookies, have become a part of strong 2013 rookie class.
Nathan MacKinnon’s performance this year was not unexpected. The 18-year old came into the draft after leading the Halifax Mooseheads to their first Memorial Cup championship. MacKinnon was named the tournament’s most valuable player after putting up 13 points in four games. After the Colorado Avalanche won the draft lottery and the right to draft first overall, it was assumed that the choice between the forward MacKinnon and the defenseman Seth Jones would be a difficult one for the struggling Colorado organization. However, for newly appointed head coach Patrick Roy and the Avalanche scouts, the choice was never in doubt. The Avalanche took MacKinnon with their first round pick, believing he could be an immediate contributor to the team that looked to make their way back into the playoffs.
MacKinnon took little time to meet their expectations. He earned two assists in his first game for the Avalanche, a 6-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, and quickly became a player opposing teams had to gameplan against, an impressive feat considering the number of dangerous weapons Colorado already had on their roster. MacKinnon’s chemistry with centers Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, along with his lethal ability to produce on the powerplay, allowed him to quickly take the lead in rookie scoring. His path to the lead spot was helped by a 13-game point streak, an NHL record for rookies, breaking the previous record of 12 held by Wayne Gretzky. MacKinnon is expected to win the Calder Trophy for the league’s best rookie at the end of the year, having met and surpassed any expectations many held for him.
Seth Jones’s rookie season has taken a different path. While he was in competition for the No 1. spot in the NHL draft, he was passed by three teams until falling to the Nashville Predators at number four. The Predators organization was ecstatic about the result, having had Jones as the top choice on their draft boards but never expecting him to fall to their draft position. it seemed like a match made in heaven, as the Predators have had an impressive record with drafting and developing defensemen. After all, their top pairing of Suter-Weber over the past couple years were grabbed in the first and second round of the unbelievable 2003 NHL Entry draft. After losing Suter to free agency, Seth Jones falling into their lap with the fourth overall pick seemed like destiny.
Jones has struggled his rookie year, as has the entire Nashville team. The Predators will likely miss the playoffs again this year, being eight points out of a playoff spot with only six games remaining in the regular season. And Jones, while starting the season strong, showed his inexperience as the games piled up. At the moment, it would be difficult to even call him the fourth best defenseman in this rookie class, as fellow rookie defensemen Olli Maata (PIT), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Torey Krug (BOS), and Hampus Lindholm (ANA) have all outplayed him on the year. This speaks more about the depth and the all around strength of a surprising 2013 rookie class than it does about Jones’ play however. Given that defensemen are generally considered to take longer to develop and reach their potential, there is not much to worry about regarding this 19-year old defenseman.
It would be a disservice not to mention two other surprising rookie performances, both coming out of Tampa Bay. Lightning forwards Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson are number two and three in rookie scoring and both have become key contributors to a playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lightning team. While most teams would attempt to shelter their rookies with fewer minutes and lesser matchups, head coach John Cooper has found it easy to rely on both Palat and Johnson to play the tough minutes during the game, especially on the penalty kill. The two rookies have combined for nine shorthanded points, including six of the nine shorthanded goals the Lightning have scored on the season. Almost as importantly, Palat and Johnson’s surprising development has allowed Tampa Bay stay in the playoff race despite losing elite scorer Steven Stamkos to a leg injury for a portion of the season and trading away point-producing veteran Marty St. Louis.
There are other rookie sensations that have made their marks on their respective teams. Valeri Nichushkin has shown chemistry with many of the Dallas Star players, center Sean Monahan has already become a leader in the Calgary lockerroom, and Elias Lindholm has shown some remarkable playmaking abilities in Carolina. The 2013 NHL Entry Draft was considered to be one of the deepest in years, and it has been players from that draft that have made this year’s rookie class a surprisingly deep one as well.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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