After a disappointing season in which the Colorado Avalanche finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the franchise got a much-needed victory on Monday night by winning the 2013 NHL draft lottery.
Since the team moved from Quebec City to Denver for the 1995-96 season, the Avalanche have picked in the top five of the first round twice (2009 and 2011). This is the first time that the team will hold the No. 1 overall selection.
The likely pick will be Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, who grew up in Denver and learned to love the game watching the Avalanche as a kid. He's also the No. 1 defenseman that Colorado needs to contend for Stanley Cup championships in the near future.
Let's look at five ways Jones would help this franchise return to prominence in the West.
The 2013 NHL Draft will take place at the Prudential Center in New Jersey on June 30.
From the time that Rob Blake left the team after the 2005-06 season as a free agent, the Avalanche have been trying to find a No. 1 defenseman to anchor their blue line and shut down opposing teams' best forwards.
The lack of a legitimate top-pairing defenseman has been one of the main reasons why this franchise has made just one playoff appearance in the last five years.
As the following chart shows, Colorado has not defended well, and its penalty killing has been mediocre or below average over the last five years (NHL rank in parenthesis).
|2012-13||3.13 (27th)||80.3 (20th)
|2011-12||2.66 (15th)||83.0 (12th)
|2010-11||3.50 (30th)||76.1 (30th)|
|2009-10||2.78 (17th)||80.2 (21st)|
|2008-09||3.09 (26th)||79.9 (21st)|
As a two-way player with strong defensive skills and an already-polished offensive game, Jones would improve the Avalanche at even strength and on special teams. He's the type of defenseman who can log 22 to 25 minutes of ice time per game as a rookie and play in every type of situation.
Semyon Varlamov is a talented player and will likely be the team's No.1 goaltender of the present and future, but he won't single-handedly carry the Avalanche to the playoffs. With a true No. 1 defenseman like Jones who will prevent the opposing team from creating many quality scoring chances each game, Varlamaov's job in net would be a lot easier.
The Avalanche have a decent prospect pool, but they only have one defenseman with top-four potential in Duncan Siemens, who was selected 11th overall in the 2011 draft.
Since the Avalanche already have several good young forwards with bright futures ahead of them (including Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau), selecting Jones with the No. 1 overall pick is a no-brainer decision.
Jones is the type of player that teams build a championship roster around.
He is strong defensively with a high hockey IQ, a physical stye of play, plenty of size and strength (6'3", 205 pounds) and the willingness to block shots and fight for possession of the puck in the dirty areas.
His positional play is also impressive. He knows when to join the rush and when to stay back on defense. Since the NHL is a much faster game than the WHL, being able to make the correct decisions in a split second is often the difference in making a good defensive play and giving up an odd-man rush. Jones is the type of blueliner who coaches can trust in all three zones.
The Avalanche also need a defenseman who can play the point on the power play and create scoring chances. Jones' powerful shot from the point, vision in the attacking zone and impressive playmaking skills would make him an ideal addition to Colorado's power-play unit. In 61 games for the Winterhawks in 2013, Jones tallied 56 points (14 goals, 42 assists).
Jan Hejda led all Avalanche defensemen with 10 points this season, which illustrates how little offensive production the team received from its blue line. It's difficult to win games when a team needs to rely on its forwards to generate the large majority of the offense.
As a phenomenal skater with great hands and an accurate shot, don't be surprised if Jones become an elite offensive defenseman early in his NHL career. It's very rare to see a defenseman with an offensive skill set this polished at such a young age, but the most amazing part is that his game, at both ends of the ice, still has plenty of room for improvement.
Jones was Central Scouting's No. 1 prospect among North American skaters in its final pre-draft rankings.
Jones' accomplishments with Team USA have been an important part of his development, and his participation in international tournaments has allowed him to experience high-pressure situations against many of the world's top prospects.
As a member of the American team at the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championships, Jones tallied three points in six games to help Team USA win the gold medal.
He returned to this tournament in 2012 as the captain of Team USA and played a major role in the squad's gold-medal triumph, which was made possible by a brilliant defensive performance by the entire group of players.
At the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships, Jones was an alternate captain on an American team that won the gold medal with a 3-1 victory over Sweden. The 18-year-old defenseman had seven points in seven games in that tournament.
Not only did the world get to watch Jones' extraordinary talents at these tournaments, it also got to see the impressive leadership skills that this player brings to the ice.
Defensemen are often the leaders on the ice for many NHL teams (Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, for example), and Jones is no different. If the Avalanche draft him, he will probably wear the "A" on his sweater for a long time.
Jones also has the maturity and poise teams want to see from young players. This will help him make a smooth transition from junior hockey to the NHL and might allow him to play for the Avalanche as early as next season.
The Avalanche didn't give their fans many reasons to buy tickets this season. The team ranked 26th in goals scored, 27th in goals against and had a mediocre 12-9-3 record at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado also finished the year ranked 26th in average attendance (15,444) and 27th in attendance percentage (85.8), per ESPN. It was one of four franchises that didn't have an attendance percentage of 90 percent or higher.
The Avalanche have some star forwards who play an exciting style of hockey and score goals, such as Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog, but neither player has the "wow factor" that Jones brings to the ice each game.
Jones is the type of player that hockey fans in Colorado, whether they support the Avalanche or not, will pay money to watch because every time the puck is on the blade of his stick he has the potential to make a highlight-reel play.
Seth is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, who had an 11-year career in professional basketball that included one season as a member of the Denver Nuggets.
As Craig Custance of ESPN.com pointed out on Twitter, Denver is where Jones fell in love with the sport:
Seth Jones said he was hooked on hockey the moment he watched the Avalanche raise the Stanley Cup as a kid. Fantastic story if he returns.— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) April 30, 2013
In the likely event that Jones is drafted by the Avalanche, he would be starting his NHL career in the city that he grew up, learned the game in and already knows well.
One of the challenges for teams when they bring rookies to the NHL level is making them comfortable, which includes helping them get familiar with the city. This would be an easy process for Jones in Colorado because he already knows what it's like to live in Denver and understands how exciting the city can be when the Avalanche are winning games.
If the Avalanche draft him, Jones will have an opportunity to lead the team he grew up watching to a Stanley Cup championship. That would be an amazing story.