The Nashville Predators did not fill their number-one need with their first pick in the NHL draft Sunday at Newark, N.J.
They did, however, get their number-one player.
After weeks of speculation about the opportunity to add an offensive superstar, the Predators drafted defenseman Seth Jones fourth overall.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Service had Jones, the son of former Murray State and NBA basketball player Popeye Jones, as the top prospect. Likewise, general manager David Poile said the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder sat atop Nashville’s list “all year long.”
“We were thrilled that he was there at four,” Nashville’s Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty said. “He’s a terrific defenseman and a world-class player that can do it all, both offensively and defensively. … We’re thrilled to add him to our core that we have on defense. We feel like we have a real bright future there.”
Ronald "Popeye'' Jones was a three-sport star at Dresden High (1986-88). He was named TSSAA Class A Mr. Basketball in 1988, the school's only winner of the award. As a pitcher, he got the save in the 1987 state baseball tournament championship game at Greer Stadium, which remains Dresden High's only state championship in any sport.
After Murray State, he played 11 seasons in the NBA. He currently is an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Well, I'm competitive,” Seth Jones said. “I have a competitive nature and I get that from my parents. Yeah, you definitely want to prove [the first three teams] wrong and you definitely want to show them why they should have picked you. That's not my only goal next year, but it's definitely on my list.”
Jones was the youngest member of Team USA’s junior national team, which won the World Junior Championships early this season. He also was captain of the 2012 under-18 team which won World Championship gold for the second consecutive year.
With the Portland Winterhawks, he was the Western Hockey League’s highest scoring defenseman with 56 points (14 goals, 42 assists) in 61 games, the rookie of the year and the top prospect.
“I've always played [defense],” Jones said. “I don't know why. I liked it a little better than forward. I think you can see and read the play a little bit more. It's not always go, go, go, kind of like a forward. But yeah, I kind of like seeing the play develop in a defense sense.”
The first three picks were all forwards. Nathan MacKinnon went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche. Alexsander Barkov was second to Florida and Tampa Bay took Jonathan Drouin with the third pick.
Presumably, the Predators started the day with the idea that one of those players would be their choice. Instead, they got a player they believe is a difference-maker at a position where the franchise hopes to maintain its reputation built on current captain and two-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber and his former partner Ryan Suter, a Norris Trophy finalist this year with Minnesota.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about going to those teams, but at the same time I'm excited to be a Predator," Jones said. “Obviously Shea Weber is there. He's a great player, and they have a lot of other great players, and I'm happy to be a part of the organization.”
Nashville finished 29th in goals scored during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with an average of 2.27 per contest, which barely exceeded the franchise’s all-time worst of 2.23 set in 2002-03.
Only once in the last six seasons have the Predators finished among the top half of the league in goals scored. Still, Poile said early last week that if Jones was available when they picked, he and his scouts would not hesitate to take him.
“After the first three, I felt like it was never going to come,” Jones said. “But I'm happy now and wouldn't have it any other way.
“… To play in the League, the NHL next year? I think I have the potential to play in the NHL next year, but nothing is guaranteed in this line of work.”
That much was obvious in his selection.
• Briefly: The Predators added a defenseman with their second pick when they selected Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, who is a sizable 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, in the third round. They also drafted a pair of goalies from Finland, Juuse Saros (fourth round, 99th overall) and Janne Juvonen (seventh round, 203rd overall).
Half of their 10 selections were forwards. The first was center Felix Girard in the fourth round.