June 27, 2013

NHL Draft: Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon?

The Colorado Avalanche, who until recently operated with more secrecy than the CIA, shocked the hockey world when they recently said they would pass on hometown defenseman Seth Jones with the first overall pick on this Sunday's draft.


It was widely assumed that Jones would prove to be too intriguing for the Avalanche to pass up. The Avs have a lot of good young forwards but need young blueliners to compliment them. Jones is the obvious fit. Don't forget he is a marketing dream as he was raised in Denver and is the son of former NBA power forward Popeye Jones.

So when Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy all but let it be known that they are leaning towards taking one of the prized young forwards - likely Nathan MacKinnon - they shocked the hockey world. Part of that was because the Avs never show their hand, and part of that was because - if we take them at their word - they are passing up the top defensive prospect in some time.

And you know what? They are right to pass up on the defenseman.

History tells us the top defenseman picked in NHL drafts will likely go on to be very good, but not great. here's a list of the top defensemen selected in each draft from 1969 through 2010:

1969 - Dick Redmond (5th)
1970 - Dale Tallon (2nd)
1971 - Jocelyn Guevremont (3rd)
1972 - Jim Schoenfeld (5th)
1973 - Denis Potvin (1st)
1974 - Greg Joly (1st)
1975 - Bryan Maxwell (4th)
1976 - Rick Green (1st)
1977 - Barry Beck (2nd)
1978 - Behn Wilson (6th)
1979 - Rob Ramage (1st)

1980 - Dave Babych (2nd)
1981 - Joe Cirella (1st)
1982 - Gord Kluzak (1st)
1983 - Bob Dollas (14th)
1984 - Al Iafrate (4th)
1985 - Craig Wolanin (3rd)
1986 -  Zarley Zalapski (4th)
1987 - Glen Wesley (3rd)
1988 - Curtis Leschyshyn (3rd)
1989 - Adam Bennett (6th)

1990 - Darryl Sydor (7th)
1991 - Scott Niedermayer (3rd)
1992 - Roman Hamrlik (1st)
1993 - Chris Pronger (2nd)
1994 - Ed Jovanovski (1st)
1995 - Bryan Berard (1st)
1996 - Chris Phillips (1st)
1997 - Eric Brewer (5th)
1998 - Brad Stuart (3rd)
1999 - Branislav Mezei (10th)

2000 - Rostislav Klesla (4th)
2001 - Mike Komisarek (7th)
2002 - Jay Bouwmeester (3rd)
2003 - Ryan Suter (7th)
2004 - Cam Barker (3rd)
2005 - Jack Johnson  (3rd)
2006 - Erik Johnson (1st)
2007 - Thomas Hickey (4th)
2008 - Drew Doughty (2nd)
2009 - Victor Hedman (2nd)
2010 - Eric Gudbranson (3rd)

There's a lot of very good NHL players listed above. But I only see three slam dunks in 40 years of drafts - Denis Potvin, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger (we'll leave the book on Ryan Suter open a bit longer).
Those three Hockey Hall of Famers are balanced by the likes of Greg Joly, Cam Barker and Branislav Mezei.

What you are left with is what Seth Jones is likely to become - a long time National Hockey League defenseman. He will likely play 12-15 years, 1000 games played, logging top-four ice time including specialty teams play. Dave Babych. Roman Hamrlik. Jay Bouwmeester.

Good. But not great.

And there's nothing wrong with that really. But such defensemen can be found on the free agent and trade markets, assuming the Avs ownership is willing to spend the money. And given that defensemen almost always are slower to develop at the NHL level than forwards, Jones himself will be hitting free agency by the time he is hitting his prime.

Pass On Jones?

The question the Avalanche have to be asking themselves is this: Even though he's not a defenseman, would it be a wiser move to draft Nathan MacKinnon (or possibly Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov) or to trade the top pick to land multiple picks?

Like Jones, the sky is the limit for MacKinnon's upside, and he reaffirmed that at the 2013 Memorial Cup. Forwards are more likely to achieve their star status at an early age. And there's plenty of talent in Colorado for MacKinnon to join, though the Avalanche may have to decide if Ryan O'Reilly will be part of the puzzle once his trade embargo is lifted next February. There are rumours of a fractured relationship there, and if they are looking to move him at some point, does drafting MacKinnon become more intriguing?

Upgrade The Blue Line

Ultimately the Colorado Avalanche are almost certainly going to draft Seth Jones. He almost certainly will be a long time NHL defenseman. But if the Avs are to develop Jones to reach his full potential, they best start surrounding him with capable veterans as soon as possible. The Avs need to dearly upgrade their blue line anyway. It is a huge reason as to why they are drafting so highly in the first place. Failing to upgrade the blue line will be akin to throwing the kid to the wolves.

Bottom Line

Seth Jones is going to be a very good NHL defenseman. With the right development he could achieve his potential and be better than good. Great even. Nathan MacKinnon is also a can't miss prospect, too.

The general rule of thumb is draft the best player available, regardless of position. I think we will be asking ourselves who is the best player, Jones or MacKinnon, for years to come.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Harmlik went 1 overall.

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