Nashville Predators rookie Seth Jones scored a stunning game-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Jones, who was selected fourth overall in the 2013 entry draft, is already turning heads this early in his career. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators had Seth Jones number one on their 2013 NHL prospect rankings, but they selected him with their fourth-overall pick. Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman finds out how Nashville was able to land the top-ranked defenceman.
The Nashville Predators had Seth Jones number one on their 2013 NHL prospect rankings. Ten days before the draft, it became clear the Colorado Avalanche, who held the top pick, didn't.
Joe Sakic told The Denver Post the team would pass on Jones, a homegrown talent and best defenceman available.
"We feel those three forwards are just too good to pass up," he said, referring to Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin.
"Even then, we weren't certain Jones would fall to us," said Predators general manager David Poile.
When did you know?
"We had an idea Friday night." (The event was held on Sunday, June 30.)
"You have to expect the unexpected when it comes to the draft," said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. "Once (Patrick Roy) got the job, we had an inkling he'd go with MacKinnon. He had more familiarity with those guys. You'll get your heart broken if set on one guy, and are not adaptable."
Florida owned the second selection. Less than a week before the draft, Tallon got an interesting call.
"You investigate everything ... moving up, moving back ... explore every scenario. There was one offer to move down that was tantalizing."
I suppose you're not going to tell us who it came from?
Correctly assuming MacKinnon was the top pick, Tallon and his staff met Friday night to decide on their choice. Organizational need was a major factor. The Panthers are eye deep in prospects. On defence, they have Erik Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov in the NHL, with hope for Mike Matheson, Alex Petrovic and Colby Robak.
They knew they weren't going to be able to re-sign Stephen Weiss, a left-handed centre. Barkov is a left-handed centre.
But Tallon needed a promise.
"We didn't want him to spend two years in Finland," he said. "What was his willingness to come over? He told us he wanted to be with the Panthers right away."
The staff met again Saturday morning to confirm the choice. Did Tallon have the final say? "Yes sir, but we had a consensus."
The Lightning were on the clock. Did Colorado's surprise move affect them?
"It really didn't," said Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay's vice-president and general manager. "We knew we were going to get one of three of four guys. That was one name off the board, so it didn't change much for us."
"We don't do a lot mock drafts, I don't think they're a good use of your time. We have a list, we work all year long on it, we ... work off that list."
Like Tallon, Yzerman said he had a good idea on the Friday night what was going to happen in front of him. The guy at the top of their list was Drouin.
"We love his hockey sense, his competitiveness. We were high on Seth Jones, too. We had to make a decision."
The Stamkos factor
Yzerman politely declined to go into specifics, with one exception. When it was pointed out that Drouin is a left-handed shot and Steven Stamkos right-handed, he admitted it was a factor. (Martin St. Louis has to retire someday, right?)
"He's only 18 and hasn't played in the NHL yet. But you make projections ... We had that in mind, that he could fit very well into what we're trying to do."
Sometimes, we equate being sent back to junior as "failure," which is an enormous mistake. Jonathan Huberdeau, like Drouin, wasn't physically ready for the big-time in his draft year. He spent an extra season in the Quebec League, came back to win the Calder Trophy in 2013 and looks like a cornerstone.
There's every reason to believe Drouin will do the same.
"All the kids give great interviews, they're basically normal kids," Yzerman said. "You have to be careful what you read into that, because when you're 18 years old, you're going to change. We have an amateur scouting department that follows these kids for two years. We have a lot of discussion, and we come to agreement on these things."
When Tampa made the pick, Nashville's staff agreed one on thing: let's get up to the podium in a hurry. Like the others, Poile believed by Friday he knew what was going to happen. (Note to self: Find out where these guys go to dinner two nights before the draft.)
People joked they'd never seen him look so excited. Three weeks into the season, they're still very happy.
"No," Poile answered when asked if there's anything Jones lacks. "It's just a matter of experience. You can see what he has a chance to become."
Betting here is that in a decade, we're going to see four guys become great players.
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.
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