If the National Hockey League team that gets the No. 1 pick goes ahead and selects Seth Jones, that team wouldn't necessarily be bucking the trend of selecting the consensus top prospect. It would, however, be bucking another trend: defencemen are rarely selected No. 1 to the NHL.
But Jones was unsurprisingly named the NHL's Central Scouting Service top prospect in the organization's final ranking for the 2013 NHL Draft. The wisdom of the crowd is that this is a very deep draft crop with three players that could potentially go No. 1: Jones, the defenceman for the Portland Winterhawks whose visibility as an African-American hockey star has aroused the interest from Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports, and the two forwards from the Halifax Mooseheads, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.
There's no reason to doubt Jones' ability, and the prospect of a right-shooting defenceman on NHL ice should appeal to many teams. Effective, top-pairing right-side defencemen are a rare commodity at the NHL-level. Jones has size and offensive skill and well-honed defensive instincts for a player his age at the Major Junior level.
But there may be a reason why defencemen rarely go No. 1. In 2006, the St. Louis Blues spent their No. 1 pick on a 6'4", 222-lb right shooting defenceman named Erik Johnson, out of the US National Development Team Program. In doing so, they passed over players who have gone on to be top two-way centres in the NHL in Jordan Staal and Jonathan Toews. Johnson lasted just 203 games with the Blues, missed the entire season leading up to the club's lone playoff appearance in his tenure, and was traded for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Johnson is a rare "miss" by the Blues draft table generals in the mid-2000s: later that same round for instance, they selected Patrik Berglund who has developed into a two-time 20-goal scorer.
Johnson doesn't fit the criteria of a "bust" but he hasn't developed to anything beyond a serviceable NHL defenceman. Ditto Chris Phillips, first overall in 1996 to Ottawa out of the Prince Albert Raiders, and he spent much of his prime hidden behind Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara in the Senators' lineup.
If there were an all-star game this season, recent top picks Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Patrick Kane would surely be all-stars. Selecting a forward is a better bet, and some of the best defencemen at the top level come from unlikely places. Even last season when a plethora (that is the technical term for a large gathering of rearguards) of defencemen was taken in the first round, the six players who have seen NHL ice this season, Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, Scott Laughton and Stefan Matteau, are all forwards.
All that aside, with Jones announced as the No. 1 ranked prospect, his odds to go No. 1 are still quite high, even if it doesn't mean he'll have instant NHL success. Central Scouting picked Sarnia's Nail Yakupov in 2012 and Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011, but did pick Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall in 2010. The Oilers went against the grain, selecting the Windsor Spitfire. But Tavares, Stamkos and Kane were all the expected, and eventual, top selections.
No doubt, wherever the lottery ball falls, there will be good arguments for or against a top selection of Jones. Either way, however, the team with the pick will be ending a trend. Either pick against the grain, or take a defenceman with the first pick.
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