For much of the 2012-13 season, Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones was considered the consensus top prospect in the upcoming 2013 NHL Draft. With the Colorado Avalanche holding the top pick it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Jones would be heading to Denver, where his father once played professional basketball and where Seth first started playing hockey.
When Avalanche executive Joe Sakic made the announcement this past week that the Avalanche would either be taking one of the three top forward prospects available or trade the pick, and not be taking Jones, that changed things.
To his credit, the young defenseman is taking things in stride and just looking forward to the opportunity to play in the NHL – wherever that opportunity comes.
"I'm just trying to stay calm and I think I'm doing a pretty good job of just not worrying about it. I'm trying to control what I can and this isn't something that I can control," Jones told the gathered media at Friday's media luncheon in Weehawken, NJ. "It's up to the team who they draft and I'm trying to make good use of my time here in the city."
"My mom's a nervous wreck. I'm fine," joked Jones.
Rather than looking back at what might have been, if in fact Sakic's announcement is to be taken at face value and not merely draft day subterfuge (which some of the media types suspect), Jones is already moving on.
"I'm not disappointed in any way. It would have been a good story to go to Colorado. I'm pretty familiar with the city (Denver). I have a lot of friends still there from back when I lived there but I just want to develop with any team that will take me," Jones said.
The general consensus at this year's draft is that the top four players – Jones, Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and Finnish center Aleksander Barkov are generational-type talents who may be able to jump right into the NHL next season and will be top players for years to come.
While there doesn't appear to be another defenseman of Jones' calibre in the 2013 NHL Draft class, and the Avalanche do have several young forward prospects, the fact that forwards generally are NHL-ready more quickly than defensemen could be a factor.
When asked about what he thought after hearing Sakic's announcement, Jones was empathic with the new Avalanche boss.
"My reaction was nothing really, I mean, I just said, "Ok, if they're going to take Nathan (MacKinnon, the presumed new top pick) that's fine with me." I know Joe's going to do what he thinks is best for the team and what's going to get them to the next level," said Jones.
According to Central Scouting Director Dan Marr, who also addressed the media, a team would be fine with any of the top four prospects.
"I think any of the Top 4 all could be NHL-ready," Marr said. "They've all come through different processes and that's going to be up to the teams to decide those circumstances. If any of them were to make a team out of training camp it wouldn't surprise me."
Marr on Jones
"Seth is one of those guys that comes along every once in a while when you look at the big defensemen in the league like the Charas and the Prongers. He's made for today's game under today's rules where he's very smart with his hockey sense. He's a very fluid skater. He makes that good first pass out of the zone. He rises to the occasion where he plays well in a big game in big situations."
Marr on McKinnon
"He's the same in that regard (rising to the occasion in big situations). He's got a very strong competitive instinct. He rises to the occasion as he showed everybody in the Memorial Cup. His skill set, his ability to score and he's got a quickness to pull away with his speed that I haven't seen in a number of years from guys. He can just pull away with the puck like that and pull away from a check.
I've tried to (think of a center recently with the similar ability) and I couldn't come up with anybody. Nathan's a far more powerful skater than J.T. (John Tavares) was at that age. He's very unique in that aspect.
Amazingly he does (have the low center of gravity and strength to be strong on the puck). And I'm saying amazingly because if you saw him a year ago, I actually think during the course of the year his physical development was visible. It's hard to see that at this age group – and particularly with the amount of minutes he played – I think Nathan's gradually gained weight and gotten stronger during the course of the season."
Marr on Barkov
"Barkov is a strong, two-way centerman and his hockey sense is is phenomenal because he's got the patience on the play. He sees the ice. He makes the good reads. He can deliver the passes, they're timely, they're on the tape. He's got a decent finishing touch himself but he's a very unselfish center man. He likes to move the puck around and distribute the puck. It's his work ethic. He shows up to play everyday. This is a player, everyone wants high skills and low mainentance, he's high skills and zero maintenance."
Marr on Drouin
"Jonathan Drouin is in a special category. A lot of times when I talk to the older scouts they say he reminds them a lot of Joe Sakic when he played junior. His intuition in the game, his quick read and react, there's not too many players available that read the game and see the ice and can make the play. He can deliver – offensively and defensively."