Top of the Predators draft board for the last two years. The top-ranked North American skater in the draft. A future-changing, franchise-altering defenseman. Meet Nashville Predators 2013 fourth-overall pick, Seth Jones.
To hear the chatter of Predators fans and even some of the media, you would think Jones is a lock for an all-star first season and primed to challenge Shea Weber for the top spot on the Preds depth chart.
There’s just one thing. He hasn’t actually scored an NHL goal. Or even played in an NHL game for that matter.
Let’s separate ourselves from the hype for the moment; what are realistic expectations for Jones this season?
First off, rookie defensemen often struggle in the NHL, even if they’re the first d-man picked and fourth overall in a “deep” draft.
It’s a lot easier for rookie forwards to standout than defensemen because of the increased chances to play sheltered minutes, differences in zone responsibilities and frankly, the lower expectations. An ill-timed pinch by a defensemen leading to a goal against takes a lot longer for fans to forget than a one-timer by a forward that just misses rippling the twine, for example.
We have to go to the 2011 NHL draft to find some comparable players to Seth Jones. In 2012, there were three defensemen taken in the top five picks, but none of them have played in an NHL game yet.
In the 2011 draft, two blueliners were taken in the top ten and both give some insight into what we can expect from Seth Jones this coming season.
Adam Larsson was drafted fourth by the New Jersey Devils and became the first 18 year-old (Jones turns 19 on October 2nd) since Scott Stevens to make the Devils opening night roster (not bad company by any means). The 6-foot-3-inch d-man logged quite a bit of ice time in the 2011-12 season, averaging just over 20 minutes per contest, finishing the year a minus-seven. Playing on the Devils second pairing, Larsson registered 2 goals and 18 points in 66 games played. Not a bad rookie year, but nothing to gush over either.
Dougie Hamilton went in the No. 9 slot to the Boston Bruins. Hamilton played in the AHL in 2012, but did take the ice for the big club in 2013. Head coach Claude Julien protected Hamilton a lot in his first season, putting him on the ice in the most favorable matchup whenever possible and keeping his Time on Ice (TOI) average around only 17 minutes per game. He did play in 42 of the Bruins 48 regular season games, however, and produced 5 goals (16 points overall) playing predominately on the 3rd d-pairing or under the protection of Zdeno Chara in mainly offensive situations. Again, a decent season, but not an all-star performance.
So what does this tell us about Seth Jones? First off, it’s best to have low expectations for rookie d-man—even top picks. Plus, coaches have to baby rookie defensemen. Growing accustomed to the speed of the NHL and learning how to make the right zone reads takes time.
My prediction: Jones plays on the second defensive pairing with Kevin Klein. He sees time on the second powerplay unit and head coach Barry Trotz does what he can to save Jones from going up against the opposition’s top forwards. The No. 4 pick meets enough of the media and fans’ benchmarks to avoid being labeled a disappointment, but the gap between he and say Shea Weber is widely apparent.
Games: 70-75. Goals: 7. Assists: 14. TOI: 18 minutes per game.
Don’t get me wrong; overall, the addition of Seth Jones improves the Predators defensive corp. I just think it’s wise to lower our expectations for at least his rookie year.
What do you think? Give us your predictions below.