Nathan MacKinnon has waited two years for a fair fight with Seth Jones — just not literally.
"I don't think I want to fight Seth, to be honest," MacKinnon, who will captain Team Cherry, joked Wednesday on a conference call announcing the coaches and captains for the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. "He's got about four feet on me, so I think he's got a distinct advantage there."
Some phenoms who have played in the game have taken the opportunity to drop the mitts, like future NHL first overall pick Steven Stamkos did in 2008 with Yann Sauvé. A MacKinnon-Jones matchup, the top 2013 NHL draft prospects and off-ice BFFs captaining opposing teams, will sell itself. Especially when the Jan. 16 game in Halifax is in MacKinnon's stamping ground.
"I'll tell you right now, Nathan's got orders not to fight Seth," said Hockey Night In Canada commentator Don Cherry, who will coach MacKinnon on Team Cherry. "We want him to finish the game."
It could be the most anticipated game in the event's 18-year run, especially with the lockout-year buildup. As close as the two are as friends, one is a centre on the East Coast of Canada and the other is defenceman playing on the West Coast of the United States. They play summer hockey together, but this matchup will have a lot more people watching.
"There's not really one person who's got the edge," says Jones, 18, who will captain Team Orr, whose guest coach will be former Montreal Canadiens star Mike McPhee, a Nova Scotia native. "It goes back and forth a little bit but we've never really been in a 1-on-1 situation. He's a great player and pretty hard to contain."
Cherry did his best Dana White describing how the game might unfold.
"I know one thing, if you're coming down Seth's blueline, you better keep your head up," he said. "And Nathan, how he handles the puck, he reminds me of [Carolina Hurricanes star] Jeff Skinner. He makes all the moves in a fast gear. It's gonna be dynamite."
"I can't remember two better captains," Cherry added. "I've had Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. I've never had two at the top like this. It's going to be really something. It's got the feel going in of this is the seventh game of a championship series."
Each has helped his team shoot to the top of the league standings. The Winterhawks are 20-4-1-0 for a WHL-best .820 point percentage, although the team was sanctioned on Wednesday for a series of player benefit violations. Jones has 17 points and is plus-17 in 24 games. In the QMJHL, MacKinnon and the Mooseheads are even stronger at 21-3-0-1 (.860). Of course, there is no guarantee of either team reaching the MasterCard Memorial Cup in May. This might have to suffice.
"Having the two front-runners for this year's entry draft going head-to-head as captains of their respective teams, it adds a uniqueness to this year's event," said Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting. "These are two highly skilled prospects who play different positions. They're both so highly competitive and unselfish in how they use their assets that they're leaders by example."
Jones and MacKinnon could play each other on Dec. 30 in the Canada-U.S. round-robin game at the world junior championship. This will differ since it's a showcase entirely for players in the NHL's draft class.
Because of their different birth years, they haven't gone head-to-head internationally very often. The only time they were in the same game was on New Year's Day 2011 in Winnipeg at the world under-17 challenge. Jones and Team USA beat Team Atlantic 12-1, which was predictable. MacKinnon, who was a 15-year-old underaged player, set up his team's only goal.
"I remember glimpses of Nathan," Jones said. "He was obviously a tough player for us to contain but we had more depth on our team."
MacKinnon said that game gave him a new appreciation for Jones' skills.
"I guess I realized the calibre of player he was," he recalled. "It was a pretty one-sided game. Playing for Team Atlantic, it's always tough to play against USA, the entire country. It definitely stuck in my mind that he was going to be a special player."
Being separated by four time zones has not impaired their ability to keep tabs on each other.
"It's not too difficult to see how the season's going for Nathan," the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jones said. "Every time you turn on NHL Network, he's always on there with a four- or five-point night."
"You hear a lot about Seth and the success he's having," MacKinnon added. "He will stop you defensively and beat you offensively.
"For him being 6-4 and being the best mobile defenceman I've seen, he's definitely a tough guy to play against."
The full Prospects Game rosters will be named within the next two weeks. But you can count on MacKinnon and his highly touted Halifax linemate Jonathan Drouin, a Team Cherry alternate captain, remaining united. The two are among the top 10 in QMJHL scoring.
"I'd be a dummy not to have 'em playin' together," Cherry said.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Darnell Nurse is the first defenceman named to Team Cherry. The Ottawa 67's Sean Monahan and Medicine Hat Tigers' Hunter Shinkaruk were the first forwards named to Team Orr with Jones.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.