Florida Panthers 4-12-4 (12 pts) at Colorado Avalanche 14-4-0 (28 pts)
The Florida Panthers will face the Colorado Avalanche tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver at 9:00 p.m. ET. Florida is playing the second game of a back-to-back after losing last night 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild. Here are five things to watch in tonights game:
1) Nathan MacKinnon Vs. Alexander Barkov
Remember last spring when Seth Jones seemed to be everyone’s consensus number one prospect in the draft? Remember when the Avalanche beat out the Panthers for the number one pick and everyone assumed they would pick Jones? I mean, the story was just too good, Jones started playing hockey in the Denver area, the Avalanche were his team. Back then, I just assumed Nathan MacKinnon would be a Panther. I had him penciled into the lineup for the next five years. It was Jones at one to the Avalanche and MacKinnon at two, to the Panthers.
If the Avalanche threw the league a curveball when they announced they would pass on Jones to select MacKinnon, then the Panthers reared back and delivered a knuckleball when they announced their pick in the draft would be Aleksander Barkov thus letting Jones slide to the Predators at the fourth slot.
That brings us to the present, MacKinnon is thriving with the Avalanche (three goals, nine assists) Jones has slid in behind Shea Weber as the Predators second best defenseman (24:17 TOI/G) and Barkov has fit right in with the Panthers (four goals, four assists). Third pick Jonathan Drouin, taken by the Lightning, was sent back to juniors for an extra year of seasoning. He currently leads the Halifax Mooseheads in scoring with 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 16 games.
The last minute shuffling of the top four picks makes for great debate fodder amongst hockey fans. Who made the right calls? Which players will have the best careers? It is too early to answer those questions and it is unfortunate that of the four players selected with the top four picks, only Barkov currently plays in the Eastern Conference. That means, the Barkov v. Jones or Barkov v. MacKinnon head-to-head match ups that we are all chomping at the bit to see are few and far between.
Thankfully, tonight is one of those occasions. Tonight we get Barkov Vs. MacKinnon I, the first matchup of the top two picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The fact the Avalanche and Panthers are headed in different directions, does nothing to diminish the matchup. Barkov v. MacKinnon II will not occur until January 24th so hopefully the two young guns deliver the goods tonight.