The idea that a team drafts the best player available — regardless of position — often is little more than lip service
“A lot of times you draft because of your positional need,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said Tuesday. “You say that you’re going to take the best player available, but if it’s really close between a forward and a defenseman and you need a forward, you might be swayed that way.”
That being said, if the best player on the Predators’ board is available when they make the fourth overall pick at the 2013 NHL draft on Sunday, Poile insists that will be the choice, even though it does not fill his team’s most pressing need.
Seth Jones, the son of former Murray State basketball star Popeye Jones, widely is regarded as the best among the 2013 prospects. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman is a well-rounded player who averaged a point per game this season for both his junior club, Portland of the WHL, and Team USA at the World Junior Championships.
However, the Colorado Avalanche have the first overall pick and their top executive, Joe Sakic, went on the record recently and said that team planned to use the pick on center Nathan MacKinnon.
“It’s an unusual posture, if you will,” Poile said. “I haven’t necessarily seen it that way but I’ll take him on his word. So no we’re down to three players [to choose from], assuming they’re going to draft [MacKinnon].”
If the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, which have the second and third picks, respectively, opt for forwards as well — and there are some legitimate possibilities — Nashville won’t hesitate.
“Absolutely. 100 percent. 110 percent,” is how Poile characterized the chances that he would select Jones, even though defense is one of Nashville’s great strengths.
“That’s our organization’s opinion about what he’s going to become,” Poile said. “… He’s the whole package. He has size. He has great skating. He has offensive ability. I think he’s going to be an aggressive player. He could be a Norris Trophy winner.”
He is not head-and-shoulders above the rest, though.
In addition to Jones and MacKinnon, left wing Jonathan Drouin, center Aleksander Barkov and right wing Valeri Nichushkin are at or near the top of most everyone’s draft boards. Given the Predators’ seemingly endless quest for offense, the chance to select an elite forward with the second-highest pick in franchise history (only David Legwand, second overall in 1998, was taken earlier) seems like a no-brainer.
Or the depth of top talent available this year creates the possibility to trade back and still get someone with merit, and Poile said he already has fielded offers from four or five teams that want to get closer to the top of the draft.
“In this case, all these top players bring something to the table,” Poile said. “They could all be star players. That’s how good they are. That’s how pumped up we, and everybody else, is on this draft. This is why we’ve been getting some calls … [and] they’ve been some incredibly big offers to move out of these top positions.”
If anything, Poile said he would be more inclined to try and move up into one of the top three spots rather than go back in the first round.
What he won’t do is pass up the possibility to select a defenseman, provided that defenseman is Jones.
“I think he’s the best player in the draft,” Poile said. “That’s not posturing.”