July 3, 2013

Predators Land a Steal in the 2013 NHL Draft

By - Brad Heerschop

Where I come from, anything over 70 degrees is considered balmy and people find it unbearable. We're just not used to the heat. So as I sit in my sauna of a home on a 100 degree day, I've been forced to think cool.

Naturally, my mind shifts to the ice.

Sunday's NHL Draft had plenty of surprises, one in particular that was astounding. In mock drafts done by so-called "experts" everywhere, the consensus was pretty standard as to who the top 4 picks would be.

The order? Not so much.

Still, Seth Jones was the No. 1 player in North America based on pre-draft rankings. I don't think I'm alone in my shock that the former Portland Winterhawk star fell into Nashville's lap as the fourth overall selection.

Photo by: Brian Heim
Is it just a coincidence that his father, former NBA player Popeye Jones, is good friends with one of the team scouts? Well of course it is. So how does a player with his talent fall to 4th in a draft class where he should have gone 1 or 2?

I have some theories.

Jones was born in Texas, but grew up in Denver, where his father played for the Nuggets. It seemed almost too fitting that he might go to his hometown team, the Colorado Avalanche, as the first overall pick.

The Avs could have fared well with either guy, but went the way of offense instead of defense, choosing center Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads. It's hard to fault Joe Sakic and company for not selecting Jones, as it was clearly a draft of needs for the Avalanche.

Colorado was 26th in the NHL last season in total goals scored. It is no secret that offense is a huge part of the problem in Denver.

Once the Avalanche overlooked Jones, it appeared to be a matter of seconds until the Florida Panthers would pick the talented defenseman at second overall. One of the NHL's worst defensive clubs, Florida could have greatly benefited with a blue-liner of Jones' pedigree. The Panthers finished the 2012-13 season with the most goals against and the worst penalty kill percentage in the entire league.

There is no doubt that Florida has needs everywhere on the ice, but they opted for a playmaking center named Aleksander Barkov, Jr. from Finland. As a probable line mate for reigning Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, there is potential for Barkov to have immediate impact in the NHL. While Barkov is a solid pick, I don't think that is the only reason the Panthers opted to pass on Jones.

I believe the organization knows what their fans want (both of them). They want to see goals scored. They want to see offensive hockey. They want to see finesse. While Jones is a very good offensive defenseman, at the end of the day, he is still a blue-liner. The fans need something to peak their interest.

Florida has one goal; to get asses in the seats, and I don't mean corporate seat sales, either. I mean people who actually go to and watch the games. In markets where hockey is fairly pedestrian, the goal is to draw people to the arena. How do you do that? Offense, of course.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it may have just been contrary to their plans. They had to believe the Panthers were taking Jones, and when things didn't go according to plan, Tampa just stuck with their original blueprint.

The Lightning drafted Jonathan Drouin, MacKinnon's teammate in Halifax, third overall. To me, Drouin is the best passer in this draft class and one of the best playmakers the draft has had to offer in several years. The dream Tampa Bay management had of Drouin to Steven Stamkos is now real. I expect Stamkos to score more than 50 goals this year, provided Drouin lives up to his billing.

While the Lightning were in dire need of defense, I don't think they will regret their decision.

All four of these kids are very good players, but it was still surprising to see Nashville get lucky enough to land Jones when they picked 4th. It's a perfect fit for both sides, though.

The biggest knock on the 18-year-old has been that he isn't always the most physical of defensemen. However, if he is blessed enough to be paired up with captain Shea Weber, that problem should be rectified quickly. If anything, Weber is too physical at times, often opting for the big hit over the smart play. Their offsetting styles should work perfectly together, as they can help each other get better while playing to their own strengths.

The Preds seem to be a squad that is getting better each year and could be Stanley Cup contenders at any time now. This is just another smart step in the right direction. Nashville can and will be better with Jones.

Ahhh, to talk hockey in July. I feel colder already.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad this kid fell to us at 4. He's going to be the face of the franchise for the next decade.