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Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones top 2013 draft class

Nathan MacKinnon scored 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games for Halifax this past season. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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Nathan MacKinnon scored 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games for Halifax this past season. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

I appreciate that we’re all still digesting the results of the 2012 draft, but the future waits for no one and the 2013 edition promises to bring unparalleled hype to the table. That’s because there are at least two players projected to be franchise-changing prospects available and for the convenience of next season’s bottom feeders, they come in the form of a forward and a defenseman.

Nathan MacKinnon is the forward (center, to be precise) and Seth Jones is the defenseman. Both attended the 2012 draft with their agent, Pat Brisson, giving them a sneak preview of what will await them when New Jersey hosts the event a year from now. Of course, things were a lot more chill in Pittsburgh when the teens were free to stroll about under the radar.

“You see all the fans walking around with different jerseys on, it’s exciting to see,” Jones said. “You can tell the energy is getting higher with every hour before the draft.”

While Jones hails from the U.S., where the draft doesn’t grab the same headlines nationally as it does in Canada, MacKinnon comes from Cole Harbour, N.S., the same hometown as fellow Brisson client Sidney Crosby.

“It doesn’t really sink in at first,” MacKinnon said. “You see GMs walking around, you talk with them, you see reporters like Bob McKenzie and James Duthie – it’s pretty cool to see everyone around.”

And 2013 will be the year of Jones and MacKinnon. The son of former NBA pro Popeye Jones, Seth is a monster blueliner who excels at every aspect of the game and already measures in at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Raised in Texas and Colorado, Jones has played the past two seasons with the U.S. national team development program, where he was constantly at the forefront of his team’s success. This year, he formed an excellent pairing with New York Rangers first-rounder Brady Skjei, who went 28th overall in Pittsburgh.

“He’s a great skating defenseman, moves the puck really well,” Jones said. “His reads are really good, he makes the game easy. We had a deal where if he jumped into a play I would stay back. There was never any mix-ups with that, just great chemistry.”

The most sought-after player in the CHL-NCAA recruitment war this year, Jones will be heading to Portland of the Western League after his rights were traded from Everett. The University of North Dakota was seen as a frontrunner should he have gone the college route.

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For MacKinnon, the decision to play major junior would have seemed to be a no-brainer, but the young phenom mulled his options during his final season at Shattuck St-Mary’s, the famed Minnesota prep school. The day of the Quebec League draft, the high-scoring center was actually working out with Omaha of the United States League, which seemed to indicate the NCAA was an option. But after Baie Comeau selected him first overall, a trade was engineered to send MacKinnon to hometown Halifax, where he was more than happy to sign on.

As a rookie, MacKinnon led the team in scoring and on to a remarkable playoff run that saw the young squad come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the powerhouse Quebec Remparts in seven before falling to Rimouski in the semifinal. With MacKinnon, fellow forward Jonathan Drouin and goalie Zach Fucale all draft eligible in 2013, the Mooseheads are looking solid.

“We want to win the Memorial Cup next year, that’s our goal,” MacKinnon said. “I want to play well every night. I’m excited to get the season going. Two months is a long time to wait.”

But there will be a lot of waiting and anticipation in 2013 for MacKinnon and Jones. The key will be to keep their focus and luckily the two are mature for their age.

Their draft will come.

“The more you worry about it, the more it can affect your play, that’s how I see it,” Jones said. “We talked about that through the year (at the NTDP). You focus more on the team, on the ‘right now’ and it will help you.”

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.

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