So about Seth Jones being a lock to be the No. 1 pick on June 30 by the Avalanche…
I talked with the team’s chief scout, Rick Pracey, today and he said reports of Jones being the prohibitive favorite to be the pick are extremely premature – and might be proven wrong.

“The No. 1 spot, it’s open,” Pracey told me. “You know, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and Alexander Barkov, and you can go into other guys. There are others out there – Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm – that are very, very interesting players. It’s by far not a slam dunk. It’s not one player that’s running away with this thing.”

Yes, Pracey might be just saying this because he has to. You never want to give away who you’re picking five weeks in advance. Seth Jones, the big D-man from the Portland Winterhawks, has the No. 1 ranking with the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. His team is playing for the Memorial Cup and, even though his team lost 7-4 to Halifax Saturday night (in which MacKinnon got the hat trick), Jones still scored a goal and finished the game even.

I would still bet that Jones will be the pick by the Avs — largely because they so desperately need help on defense. MacKinnon looks like one hell of a player, but he’s a center. The Avs’ biggest strength as a team right now is their group of centers. If they take a MacKinnon, they are definitely going to have to trade someone among their top three (Duchene, Stastny, O’Reilly – although O’Reilly can’t be traded until Feb. 28, 2014 at the earliest).

But maybe MacKinnon will prove just too good to pass up. Bottom line: it sounds like there could be a lot more drama on June 30 at the Prudential Center in New Jersey on draft day than maybe we thought.

“We have to be looking at the best player available,” Pracey said. “When you’re holding the No. 1 pick, you still have to maintain that philosophy. We’re after not only the most talented kid right now, but long into the future. We hope this is a 10-15 year player for us. We have to make sure we have all our bases covered. They’re all good players, and we’ve had an extreme amount of coverage on these top kids, and now we’re entering the secondary phase.”

That secondary phase, Pracey said, include the NHL Combine, which starts May 27 in the Toronto area.