A minstrel of great fame once sang that "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." As June has come and the 2013 NHL Draft has gotten closer, the Tampa Bay Lightning are making plans, as are the other National Hockey League franchises. Sometimes the best laid plans fall through, and sometimes the predicted results just don't happen. That can lead to let-downs or pleasant surprises.
The plan that's been openly speculated throughout hockey is for the Lightning to be looking at a decision between elite forwards available in the draft. But as things fell on June 5th (when SB Nation started conducting its mock draft internally), those plans were suddenly turned on its ear.
Seth Jones, the guy who has been labeled as the likely #1 draft pick by 36 of 50 mock drafts listed on the DC Sports 2013 Mock Draft Database through June 12th, was still on the draft board.
Speculation and rhetoric has been repeated for a while now that Jones will be gone by the #3 pick during the actual NHL Draft on June 30th in Newark. That had been pronounced the absolute iron-clad fact by media persons, beat writers, bloggers and idle fans speculating on the Internet. While Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Barkov's names have been thrown in as possible selections at #3, people have tended to be adamant the draft will go Jones- Nathan MacKinnon - Jonathan Drouin.
But here, it didn't play out that way. You can read Mile High Hockey's post about their pick here. You can read Litter Box Cats justification for picking Drouin #2 overall here. I can't tell you how likely in reality the tandem of MacKinnon and Drouin will be the first players selected come the 30th, but it happened here. Seth Jones was still there for the taking.
Suddenly, planning to pick between forwards isn't necessary. Not only do the Lightning have a chance to draft the best on the board, but the best on the board in a position of weakness for the club that GM Steve Yzerman is tasked with rectifying this offseason and long term. It's why Rick Bowness was brought in as a new assistant coach; it's why other changes will likely happen for the Lightning on the blue line over the course of the summer.
If Seth Jones is still on the draft board at #3, it's an absolute no-brainer to pick him... And that's why Raw Charge selects Jones in the SB Nation Mock Draft.
At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Seth is unique in his mobility and skill on such a large frame. He's been labeled a potential franchise cornerstone defenseman. The Western Hockey League rookie of the year had 14 goals and 42 assists in 61 games as an 18-year old while playing with the Portland Winterhawks last season.
Jones is a very fluid skater who can handle the puck under pressure and will jump start the offense. He can distribute the puck, move the puck and has a big time shot. He has displayed a high hockey IQ and picks the most opportune moments to jump into the rush where he moves like a high-end forward. Those offensive skills garnered him 14 goals and 56 points in his rookie year, which led all WHL rookies, and may very well make him the top pick in June's NHL Draft.
The offensive side of his game is not the whole story. He is very sound in his own end and never seems rattled by the play or by the pressure of opposing forecheckers. Despite his size he did not turn out to be an overly physical player, although that seems like something he could easily learn to do. He is strong enough and smart enough to hone his physical game and there seems to be no reason to believe that the physical aspect of his game will catch up with all the other eye-popping ability he possesses.
When it does he could become one of the most intimidating blue liners in the game.
It's not all unicorns and rainbows to take a defenseman with a top pick, as the Copper and Blue pointed out a few weeks back... But it does pay off if given time and a healthy environment to develop.
Another drawback on Jones that a few Lightning fans probably caught on to from the quoted Hockey Writers piece is the size of Jones frame and the point he's not an overly physical defenseman. That's something a segment of Bolts fans have already seen on defense through former first-round draft pick in Victor Hedman. It's not that Hedman is a bad defenseman; it's that some fans expect a player of Hedman's size to play the body. That same expectation would likely come for Jones, but hitting isn't why he's considered the best D in the draft.
This selection isn't trying to replace Hedman, it's a selection that should be looked at as an addition that'd join Hedman in the defensive corps. One major difference between Victor and Seth is the fact Jones is a righty shot, which is part of his luster.
One other caveat about Jones going 3rd overall: If this scenario plays out, the Lightning are going to be contacted with offers of various sorts. Jay Feaster, Calgary Flames GM, may offer picks 6, 22 and 28 for the #3 (he's already made that offer, reportedly, for the #1 overall pick). Other teams will be calling with more tangible offers - read: players; that'd become a complication under the tighter salary cap for next season, because you're not just acquiring players - you're acquiring contracts. Prospects are likely what Tampa Bay would be offered, not established top-4 defenseman that some expected to land in a trade for the pick.
All in all, the scenario of Jones falling to the Lightning seems unlikely in reality (if the long-standing mock draft projections are accurate). If Tampa Bay is given the opportunity to select the young defenseman, Steve Yzerman shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. You can find some of Seth's words taken from the 2013 Draft Combine over at Mile High Hockey, it gives you a better picture of the attitude of the player (along with that of Nathan Mackinnon).
What do you think, people? Will Jones be available at #3? Would you take him with the selection if he was, or would you try to trade down? Let us know in the comments.