There is nothing quite like the hype, anticipation and sense of uncertainty that comes with the NHL Draft.
This is especially true when the No. 1 overall pick remains mystery a week prior to the formal selection process, as is the case this year. The Colorado Avalanche recently announced that they do not plan on drafting top prospect Seth Jones with the first choice in Newark, N.J., and instead will opt for one of the class’s elite forwards — Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Aleksander Barkov or Valeri Nichushkin.
Of course, this announcement by Patrick Roy and Co. has a substantial trickle-down effect. The kid who almost everyone thought would go No. 1 is now suddenly up for grabs with no clear destination in sight. And with the Florida Panthers very likely to pass on the talented rearguard as well at No. 2, there’s a chance he could drop more than most pundits predicted.
But if he is on the board when the Preds are on the clock, don’t expect him to fall any further.
Predators GM David Poile stated on Tuesday that he will select Jones if he is available when Nashville picks at fourth overall, citing that he believes the 6′ 4” D-man is the best player available this year.
Poile says the Preds would take Seth Jones at 4 if available. Says he is the best player in the draft…
— JoshuaCooper (@JoshuaCooper) June 25, 2013
“(Jones is) the whole package,” Poile told Smashville247.net. “He has size, he’s got great skating, offensive abilities – he could be a Norris Trophy winner. That’s not to say the other guys couldn’t equally be as good, but right now that’s how I would have him, as the best player in the draft.”
If the Preds were to draft based on needs, they would target a center first and foremost with the No. 4 pick. The organization is deep on the wings with the likes of Filip Forsberg, Taylor Beck and Jimmy Vesey; the defensive corps, while not filled with many top prospects, is fairly set with Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Kevin Klein on board and youngsters like Ryan Ellis ready to blossom.
But when you have the shot to draft as high as fourth overall, you simply cannot pick based on needs; but rather, you must pick the best player available. And when you look at the Preds, a team that severely under-performed last year and could re-evolve into a contender very soon, they probably won’t have the chance to draft this high in the foreseeable future.
So if you’re David Poile, you have to get the best guy you can when given this rare opportunity.
While selecting Jones would prevent the Preds from bringing in a blue-chip offensive prospect for the first time in franchise history, it would solidify the team’s defensive foundation, one that is already among the most promising in the league. Moving forward, a top four of Weber, Josi, Klein and Jones would create one of the more intimating and formidable blue lines in the NHL. When we take into account the skill of one Pekka Rinne, Nashville could soon become one of the best defensive teams in the league.
And that, far more so than adding an elite goal-scorer, would bring the team closer to contending for the Cup.
Chicago had the best goals against average in the NHL this regular season (2.02); the Bruins were third (2.21). Nashville, uncharacteristically, was 20th in this category with a 2.77 GAA. Improving the Preds’ offense must remain a priority — they were last in the league in goals, after all — but they’ll find it very difficult to return to the playoffs without patching up the blue line.
Hockey teams can be successful with a good defense and average-to-mediocre offense, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Los Angeles was 29th in the NHL in goals in 2011-12, the year they won the Cup, but were 2nd in goals against. Minnesota, San Jose and Ottawa were 23rd, 24th and 27th in goals this season, respectively, and all qualified for the postseason.
On the flip side, just look at Tampa (third in goals), Philadelphia (ninth in goals): teams that had good offenses but were ultimately unsuccessful due to their defensive shortcomings.
Building from the net out — a concept the Preds have run with over the years — remains the best strategy to constructing a contender. Selecting Jones would only aid that process.
The Flames previously offered three first round picks in this year’s draft (6th, 22nd and 28th overall) to Colorado for the No. 1 pick, presumably to take Jones. While the fourth selection doesn’t hold the same kind of value as the first, it would still be worth an incredible return if Jones was still sitting in the Prudential Center crowd.
“We’re so into one of these four players that we’re going to get, it would really take that unbelievable offer to (strike a deal),” said Poile. “If I could just reserve that 2 or 3 percent chance that we would do that, because I don’t want to have to eat my words because I know something will come to us.”
Of course, there’s a good chance that Jones will be tabbed before the Preds have a chance to swoop in, but it would be hard for them to complain given the consolation prizes that would be available. Adding a top-tier forward like Barkov or Drouin would go a long way towards solidifying a top-six that remains somewhat hollow at the moment. And, as we discussed last week, bringing in an electric forward has an incredible number of benefits.
“All these top players bring something to the table; they could all be star players,” Poile said of the draft class. “That’s how good they are. That’s how pumped up we are and everybody else is on this draft. This is why we’ve been getting some calls – not a lot, but a few – and they’ve been incredibly big offers to move out of these top four positions.”
The Preds really find themselves in a win-win-win situation here: they could get the player they’ve been targeting; they could finally get an elite forward prospect; or they could make a lucrative trade.
Regardless of what path the Preds take, they will be far better off than they are right now.
For more from Poile, check out this ESPN Radio interview he did on Tuesday afternoon:
Photo credit: David Chan