Why Did Seth Jones Fall Out of the Top 3 at the 2013 NHL Draft?

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Why Did Seth Jones Fall Out of the Top 3 at the 2013 NHL Draft?

The biggest story of the 2013 NHL draft was the unexpected fall of top-ranked North American skater Seth Jones to No. 4 after being in the top two of just about every mock draft in the months, weeks and days leading up to Sunday's event.

Much of the buildup before the draft centered around two players: Jones and Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon, who was the highest-ranked forward on Central Scouting's pre-draft list.

When the Colorado Avalanche passed on Jones with the first overall pick, it was expected that the Florida Panthers would be more than willing to select him given the fact that they finished 30th in goals against and penalty killing during the 2013 season.

But in a stunning turn of events, the Avalanche, Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning skipped over Jones, much to the shock of the fans who came to the Prudential Center to watch all seven rounds of the draft.

"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, and obviously, Shea Weber is there," said Jones. "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."

The biggest question to emerge from the first round is: Why did Jones, who was labelled as one of the best defensive prospects of all-time and a surefire NHL star, get passed on by three teams that need help on the blue line?

Even MacKinnon said he was surprised that Jones fell down to No. 4.

"Yeah. I think this is such a tight draft. I don't know if we've seen anything like this before," said MacKinnon to reporters. "Any four of us could have been No. 1, I think, it's pretty safe to say.

"Seth is a very special player, and he's going to have an unbelievable career in Nashville. I think that's pretty clear. Along with Barkov and Joe, it's going to be great careers for those guys, as well. Obviously, maybe in another draft, Seth would have been one, or maybe even this draft he could have been one. It was so tight, I guess it was just team preference."

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Team preference, filling a need and not following the old strategy of "take the best player available," may be a few reasons why Jones fell to the Predators.

"Yeah, it's a little bit surprising," said Jonathan Drouin, who was taken at No. 3 by the Lightning. "Obviously, he's a great defenseman and all this stuff, but the teams needed a forward and a center, and same thing with Colorado and Tampa Bay needing a forward, so I think it goes on for everyone."

Even though the Avalanche need a franchise defenseman to anchor their blue line, missing out on a generational talent such as MacKinnon would have been an incredibly difficult move to make. He projects to be one of the best forwards in the game, someone who can step into the NHL right away and perform at a star level as a rookie.

When you look at the forwards drafted No. 1 overall since 2000, almost all of them have become stars whom general managers can build a successful playoff contender around. Those players include Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane.

MacKinnon has the potential to be one of these franchise cornerstone players. He showed that in Halifax by tallying 75 points (32 goals, 43 assists) in 44 regular-season games and an astounding 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 17 playoff games, including 13 points in just four Memorial Cup games.

Drafting a No. 1 center was an opportunity too good for Colorado to pass up, and the Lightning found themselves in a similar position.

They needed a top-six winger, one who could eventually replace 38-year-old forward and leading scorer Martin St. Louis. Available at No. 3 was MacKinnon's linemate Drouin, who has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane as an explosive winger with exceptional playmaking and goal-scoring skills.

Even though Jones would have satisfied a need on the Tampa Bay blue line, not drafting Drouin would have been difficult for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

Florida is the most curious case of the three teams that passed on Jones.

The Panthers were awful defensively last season and would have benefited greatly from a shutdown defenseman with offensive skill such as Jones. With that said, the decision to take Aleksander Barkov gives the Panthers a playmaking center to pair with first-line winger and reigning Calder Trophy winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Barkov (left) and MacKinnon.

Aside from team preferences and the abundance of elite-level forwards available in the top five, could it have been something about Jones' skill set that prevented teams from taking him with as a top three pick?

One criticism is that Jones doesn't play as physical as he should given his size (6'3", 205 lbs).

His lack of aggression has resulted in people comparing him to veteran NHLer Jay Bouwmeester, who, despite his size, only makes a strong impact offensively.

With all due respect to Bouwmeester, an offensive defenseman who doesn't impact games physically, is not the kind of player teams should take in the top three when there are elite-level forwards with point-per-game potential on the board.

As a defenseman who's still learning to use his strength to his advantage, it will likely take Jones a few months to make an impact in the NHL, whereas the three forwards drafted ahead of him could all contribute right away.

Which team that passed on Jones will regret it the most?

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Jones' performance at the Memorial Cup against MacKinnon and Drouin's Mooseheads team was less than stellar, which caused his stock to drop a bit before the draft. It was Jones' last chance to distinguish himself as the clear No. 1 prospect over the two Halifax forwards.

Despite any disappointment that Jones may be feeling after not being drafted in the top three, there's no question that he's been put into a great situation in Nashville. He can learn from an elite defenseman in Shea Weber and a top coach in Barry Trotz.

The Predators defense-first style is a good fit for Jones' skill set. He should receive plenty of playing time as a rookie next season.

But Jones isn't going to forget about the teams that didn't take him Sunday, and it will certainly fuel the 18-year-old to quickly show these GMs why doing so was a gigantic mistake.

"I have a competitive nature, and I get that from my parents. Yeah, you definitely want to prove them wrong, and you definitely want to show them why they should have picked you," said Jones. 

"That's not my only goal next year, but it's definitely on my list."

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Follow Nick on Twitter for live updates from the 2013 NHL draft on June 30. All quotes obtained firsthand.

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