Should the Florida Panthers Trade the No. 2 Pick If Seth Jones is Available?

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Should the Florida Panthers Trade the No. 2 Pick If Seth Jones is Available?
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Take a deep breath and turn the page.

The heart-stopping Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins is over and the NHL Draft comes into sharp focus Sunday from Newark, N.J. Experts like Bob McKenzie of TSN.com and former NHL general manager Craig Button say that this is both a talented and deep draft.

It's also one with a lot of intrigue.

The Colorado Avalanche have the No. 1 pick, and new executive VP Joe Sakic told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post that his team is not going to draft defenseman Seth Jones with that pick—he is much more interested in drafting one of the top three forwards in the draft.

Sakic, the former Avalanche star and a Hockey Hall of Famer, is more interested in bringing in Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov. If Sakic is going to be taken at his word—and he earned a reputation for speaking his mind honestly throughout his long playing career—that would leave the Florida Panthers with the opportunity to select Jones with the No. 2 pick.

There is certainly a need for a game-changing defenseman in Florida. The Panthers gave up more goals per game and were arguably the worst defensive team in the NHL in 2013. Jones fits the bill with his size, skill and excellent skating ability.

Jones, a 6'4", 205-pound right-handed shooting defenseman, is the best defense prospect in the draft, according to Button. In addition to his physical gifts, Button believes Jones thinks the game very well, recognizing his options as a play opens up and regularly choosing the correct one.

The numbers say that Jones is a stellar player. He scored 14 goals and 42 assists in 61 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, and was a remarkable plus-46 on the season. Jones also captained Team USA in the World Under 20 championships earlier this year, and he performed well (two goals, six assists, plus-eight) for the gold medal winners.

If the Panthers hold on to the pick, selecting Jones would seem to make sense because of his substantial talent and potential.

But the Panthers might want to consider trading that No. 2 pick because they need a plethora of talent and not just a skilled young defenseman. If general manager Dale Tallon could secure a rising player and a first-round draft pick for the No. 2 spot in the draft, he could consider making a move.

It would be hard to argue with that logic. In addition to being the worst defensive team in the NHL, the Panthers were also the worst offensive team. They gave up the most goals and they scored the least (tied with Nashville at 2.27 goals per game). That's a problem for a general manager who wants to win games in the future.

Tallon also knows that it usually takes more time for a highly-rated defensive prospect to develop into a star player than it does for a young forward.

It's a complicated situation for Tallon, the Panthers and Jones. Throw in the fact that Jones is the highest rated African-American player in draft history, and that creates another level of intrigue.

If the Panthers were to draft Jones, it would be a huge story for the greater Miami metropolitan area. News organizations would undoubtedly descend on the area to see how the prized rookie is adjusting to life in South Beach.

But would it create greater interest in the Panthers and the NHL in South Florida?

It's highly doubtful.

The sports fans in the area are focused on LeBron James and the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat and the Miami Dolphins. The Panthers are a major-league team in name only.

Could Jones help change that perception?

Perhaps, but there is little indication that the NHL will ever be more than a niche sport in South Florida.

Jones has a chance to become a legitimate superstar, but the Panthers have so many needs that trading Jones would appear to be the best move.

The Edmonton Oilers have the No. 7 pick in the draft, and Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal believes general manager Craig MacTavish has a strong interest in drafting Jones. The Oilers would almost certainly have to send a solid young player, a prospect and that seventh pick in the draft to get the opportunity to draft Jones.

Prior to the start of the draft, that means making a deal with the Colorado Avalanche. However, if Sakic is true to his word and decides against selecting Jones, that would mean making a deal with the the Panthers.

Florida should jump on that deal if MacTavish makes that call.

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