Was not being taken first overall a blessing in disguise for Seth Jones?
It's hard to imagine someone who was just selected fourth overall in the 2013 National Hockey League Entry Draft being disappointed, but Seth Jones has to at least be harbouring some of those feelings. Jones was thought for quite sometime to be the first overall pick, but then the Memorial Cup happened. Nathan MacKinnon made a huge statement while leading the Halifax Mooseheads to the championship and quickly became the man everyone wanted.
On the outside, Jones being taken by the Colorado Avalanche first overall would have seemingly been the perfect fit. He spent time in Colorado as a child when his dad, Popeye Jones, was playing for the Denver Nuggets and grew up rooting for the Avalanche. He watched players like Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, who run the organization today, lead the team to a Stanley Cup. The Avs also could have used a boost on the blue line and already possessed a decent crop of young forwards heading into the draft.
Despite the compelling arguments for Colorado to take Jones, they ultimately decided to go with the centre in MacKinnon. There seems be a growing belief in the NHL that the position you must lock up to have any success is a number one centre, and that just might be the case. Over the years we have seen more and more goalies emerge from obscurity and few teams wanting to take a risk on one with a first round pick. There is also evidence to suggest defensemen could be heading in this direction as well. Not only was Jones passed up in favour of three skilled forwards, but look at the Boston Bruins' recent playoff run. They received major contributions from second round pick Johnny Boychuk, sixth round pick Dennis Seidenberg, and the undrafted Torey Krug.
Even though Jones probably would have loved to be the number one pick, going to the Nashville Predators at number four may just end up being the best thing for him and fantasy owners as well. Jones will have a great opportunity to succeed there, and probably right away.
If the Predators were smart they would pair Jones with Shea Weber next season for obvious reasons. Weber is one of the best defenders in the game and getting a chance to play alongside him for much of the year would certainly ease the transition for Jones. Weber spent most of 2013 with emerging blue liner Roman Josi and although he is still young and inexperienced, Josi did enough in the campaign to make you think he could survive on his own pairing.
Playing with Weber would also give him some time on the man advantage one would think. Nashville had the league's 17th ranked power play in 2013 and Jones' ability to hammer the puck from the point could really help the Predators improve in that area. With two booming shots from the blue line, the Preds would give opposing defenses and goaltenders fits.
The other thing about playing with Weber that poolies will be interested in is the probability of the pair going up against opponent's top lines. Weber usually gets the opposition's best and that isn't likely to change even if he is playing with Jones. You could look at that as a negative because of the chance to be scored upon quite frequently, but it could also lead to lots of hits and blocks for Jones. Skilled players have the puck often and will be taking plenty of shots, so Jones should get ample opportunity to use his defensive skill to help out poolies in those two categories.
The toughest thing for any young player, but especially a defenseman, is learning the defensive part of the game. The plus/minus category is typically not a great stat for rookies; although in Nashville Jones could be an exception. The Predators play a stingy team concept and with the aid of Pekka Rinne in goal are usually one of the stronger defensive teams in the league. Nashville finished in the top 10 in the NHL when it came to goals against per game in two of the last three campaigns. This should give Jones a fighting chance to be a plus player in his rookie season, or at the very least see him finish just below even.
Now the Predators have never been a spot to go to when looking for a fantasy hockey juggernaut, or anything that even resembles offensive creativity for that matter. With that being said though, let's not forget that they do have a history of producing valuable fantasy performers in net and on the back end. Rinne has been a solid goalie for several years now and in addition to Weber, Ryan Suter was a top defenseman as well. I'm not saying Jones is going to get as much production as Suter did playing with Weber, but he at least fills a void and brings some of the same skills to the table.
With Jones now in the mix, the Predators have the luxury of potentially moving Ryan Ellis. The 2009 first round pick hasn't been developing as quickly as the organization would like, so moving him for an asset could be an option. If they were to keep him and he was to start showing some of the offensive ability he had in junior, then all of a sudden the Preds could be looking at one of the better top four D groupings in hockey.
Looking at Jones' outlook from a pure hockey perspective is easy, but there are other intangible factors that could help him in Nashville. The first overall pick comes with a significant amount of pressure and scrutiny. Being a well known junior player won't make Jones exempt from that, but going fourth instead of first should alleviate some of it.
Nashville should be commended on its strides in becoming more of a hockey town in recent years, but Colorado is much more of a hotbed for the sport. With multiple Stanley Cup championships and hall-of-famers Sakic and Roy running the show, the pressure to pan out quickly certainly would have been higher with the Avalanche.
Jones will now set out to prove to the three teams that passed on him that they made a mistake. As disappointing as not going number one probably felt, Jones could end up being very thankful that he ended up in the Predators organization. Hopefully poolies will be saying the same thing. Time will tell.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @amato_mike
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