By Aaron Bell
They may play on opposite ends of the continent but Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones may feel like they're attached at the hip at times this season.
MacKinnon, a centre with the Halifax Mooseheads, and Jones, a rookie defenceman with the Portland Winterhawks, are already being billed as the top candidates to go first overall pick in next June's NHL Entry Draft.
The emerging stars are sharing the cover of this week's edition of The Hockey News and both players have interesting storylines that the media are picking up on.
MacKinnon hails from Cole Harbour, N.S. and after being the first overall pick in the QMJHL draft last year, the comparisons to Cole Harbour's most famous son - Sidney Crosby - are already pouring in.
Meanwhile, Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones and plays an up-tempo game that would translate well to any NHL blue line.
MacKinnon is already a proven scorer. He put together a 31-goal, 78-point rookie season and followed that up with 13 goals and 28 points in Halifax's 17-game playoff run to the league semi-finals last spring. He has four goals and eight points in five games this season and will like challenge for the QMJHL's scoring title.
"His skill level with the quickness with which he can execute, read and react - there aren't many players who can do that," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "At the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka, he displayed his A game to where he did some things that no other player in this draft class has shown."
Jones scored a goal and five points in three pre-season games with the Winterhawks and has one assist in his first three WHL regular season games.
"If Seth Jones was eligible for the 2012 draft, he would have given Ryan Murray (the second overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets) a run for his money as the top defender chosen," Marr said.
MacKinnon and Jones will likely get the chance to square off head-to-head for the first time in the Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects Game which MacKinnon and the Mooseheads are hosting in Halifax on January 16.
MacKinnon may have the home ice advantage in that game but Jones already has more experience playing against the other top prospects. He scored a goal in last week's All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and said that the special event games will be a fun part of his draft year experience.
"Obviously in your draft year you are going to have eyes on you every time you're out there playing - watching your every move," said Jones, who helped the U.S. win the Under-18 World Championship earlier this year.
Ottawa 67's captain Sean Monahan has enjoyed a tremendous first two seasons in the nation's capital and also hopes to make a bid as the top pick before the season is finished.