B y most measurements, Seth Jones was the top rated player going into Sunday’s NHL Draft.
Thus, it was mildly surprising to see the first 3 teams – Colorado, Florida and Tampa – pass over him for Nathan Mackinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin respectively.
When Nashville’s turn to make their selection arrived, the Predators – a team that finished dead last in scoring last season – was left with a choice between taking Jones and taking a forward who may not be ready to play in the NHL next season.
Nashville opted to take the best available player and drafted Jones.
“We had Seth Jones rated number 1,” Nashville general manager David Poile. “We thought he was a terrific player.”
The International Scouting Service actually had Jones rated as their second best player, but other organizations such as The Hockey News and NHL’s own Central Scouting ranked him as the top prospect.
“All 4 players would have been great, but this is a franchise player,” Poile said. “I really feel good about our defense, I’ll tell you that.”
According to the ISS, Seth Jones is the kind of defenseman “that most scouts drool over.”
Predators assistant coach Phil Housley coached Jones in January during the United States’ gold medal run in the World Junior Championships.
“I was really surprised, but I was really happy at the same time,” Housley said. “After that third pick was announced, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is so great!’ He’s excited. Everyone wants to be number 1, but not everyone can be number 1 in the Draft. We were in a position where we knew we were going to get a player, but to get Seth Jones, you can’t find players like this in the back end in the NHL today.”
Jones, who many believed Colorado would select first overall, expressed excitement to be reunited with Housley.
“I loved the way he coached,” Jones said. “He was just great all around. When he needed to be rowdy, he was. When he needed to calm down a little bit, he did that. He was perfect for us, or for me.”
While many believed that Nashville was looking for a forward, Poile could not pass up the chance to draft Jones. With Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Kevin Klein already on long term contracts, the pick gives Nashville a very solid defensive line up for some time.
“When I look at it, it looks like a defense that could really stay together for a lot of years,” Poile said.
Last season, long-time Predators defenseman Ryan Suter signed as a free agent with Minnesota, leaving a noticeable gap in Nashville’s defensive coverage.
“We’re looking for size, we’re looking for talent,” Poile said. “We’ve got Shea Weber, we’ve got (Roman) Josi. We lost Suter a year ago, replace him with Seth Jones – that’s really good.”
“They have had a lot of good defensemen in the past and still do,” Jones said, “so I’m excited to go in and learn from guys like Weber to help better myself.”
Housley echoed Jones’ assumption that the presence of Shea Weber would help turn him into a better NHL defenseman.
“You’ve got one of the best guys in the league to play with (in Shea Weber),” Housley said. “He’ll be a great mentor because you don’t have to push Seth along. He can learn from the best. That’s invaluable as far as the experience part. I’m excited to work with Shea and Seth and the rest of the defensive corps, but I think it’s going to be tremendous in his development.”
Jones played two seasons for the United States National Development Team before moving to the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks for the 2012-13 season. During his sole season in Canadian Major Junior hockey, the Texas-born defenseman racked up 56 points (14 G – 42 A) and tacked on an additional 19 (7 G – 12 A) as the Winterhawks finished runner-up to the Halifax Mooseheads in the Memorial Cup.
“Defenseman are at a premium,” Housley said. “To have a guy like that back there solidifies our defensive corps.”
Being drafted as high as he was, the chances are pretty good that Jones will be on the Nashville Predators next season, becoming the first draftee since Scott Hartnell to make the leap to the NHL.
“I think I can be a solid defenseman and produce a little bit offensively, as well,” Jones said. “I know people say it takes time for defensemen to really grow in the League, a couple years at least, so hopefully I can prove that theory wrong.”
“I think I have the potential to play in the NHL next year, but nothing is guaranteed in this line of work, and you’ve got to earn where you play,” Jones said. ‘I’m going to go into camp and try to earn a spot.”
“Just my experience with him at World Junior – you didn’t have to really say a lot to him,” Housley said. “You coached the game and he prepared for the game like a pro. He takes very good care of himself. He’s a very character kid, a good team player. He understands where his role fits in. He was a tremendous leader for that group. He didn’t say a lot of things, but he did lead by example in the way he plays the game. I think he’s built for the NHL. He’s mobile, he can skate it out of trouble, he’s got a great stick, he can make the first good pass as he can lead the rush. He’s going to create offense back there through broken plays and transitions. He has an excellent vision – he was in all situations there. I didn’t have any problem – I relied on him a lot. He played a lot of minutes. I don’t see why he couldn’t do that in Nashville.”
“I think he’s going to have an easy transition,” Housley continued. “He’s been a leader before, so he understands that. He’s a good team guy. I just like the way he has a calming effect on everything. You look at a lot of the great defensemen that played the game and you don’t know if you’re up 5 or down 5 with these guys because their body language is the same and that’s how I think about Seth.”
Jones “fell” to the fourth spot, being passed over by 3 other teams that could easily have used a player of his caliber. Jones admitted that he planned to make those teams regret not taking him.
“Yeah, you definitely want to prove them wrong and you definitely want to show them why they should have picked you,” Jones said. “That’s not my only goal next year, but it’s definitely on my list.”
“You know, I knew I was going to go to a good place,” Jones said. “You don’t need to go first overall or high to have a good career.”
Photo Credit:Sarah Fuqua