Earlier this week, David Poile, GM of both the U.S. Olympic team and Nashville Predators, was on the radio in Montreal. He noted that while he has been impressed with the play of young American players like Jacob Trouba, Alex Galchenyuk and Seth Jones, “2014 may not be their time” to make the U.S. team.
However, any reasonable observer would have to assume that at least part of that quote is just a general manager playing down the fact that his own highly-valued rookie should be considered a mortal lock to make the cut. The fact of the matter is that you'd be hard-pressed to find many American defensemen better than Jones, let alone any who also happen to be 19 years old.
Saturday night was one of his more mediocre games this season, and the Preds got blown out by the Blues 6-1. Despite this fact, he was on the ice for just one even-strength goal against despite playing across from the Blues' top line, ate up more than 24 minutes of ice time, and helped drive the play in Nashville's favor at even strength.
What's more, this is the kind of thing he's been doing all season, and the numbers speak for themselves. He's 20th in the league among defensemen in time on ice at 24:42 a night, and the only Americans ahead of him are Ryan Suter, Dustin Byfuglien, and Paul Martin. His corsi relative is 24th, also fourth among U.S.-born defensemen. He's not drawing soft competition (second among Nashville D behind only Shea Weber, a mortal lock to make the Canadian team if ever there was one), he's playing more than 46 percent of the Preds' shorthanded time (also second behind Weber), he's drawn more penalties than he's been whistled for (plus-2), he starts fewer shifts in the offensive zone than any Nashville defenseman, and he's even been a little unlucky in terms of his on-ice shooting percentage (just 7 percent).
And if you don't like all those “fancy” stats, some of the conventional wisdom works in more of less the same way. Only once this season, as a 19-year-old rookie defenseman, has he played fewer than 21 minutes exactly once in his first 12 games, and has by any standard “looked” extremely impressive in all three zones and, indeed, done anything and everything that's been asked of him. He's fast, he's smart, he's precocious. The “rookie mistakes” thing that you'd hang on or even expect from just about anyone else have been limited, and not especially costly.
Nashville assistant Phil Housley, who coached Jones to World Junior gold last winter, told our own Nick Cotsonika that his only issue is that he might not be strong enough to be an elite NHL defenseman every night, at least, not right now. That's not likely to matter quite so much in Sochi.
More than perhaps any other defenseman in the American talent pool, Jones would appear built to thrive on international ice. He picked apart just about everyone he came into contact with in Ufa last winter specifically because of the extra space afforded him, and the ability that he had to, if you like, “making things happen” in that space.
Just about any rookie is going to run into his share of struggles at some point in the season and it's impossible to think that Jones won't succumb in some way to that eventuality, but playing alongside Shea Weber — as he has for more than 80 percent of his even-strength time on ice this season — should act as some amount of insulation from him getting too lit up at any point. This, though, obviously raises the question of whether his success is predicated in some way on Weber's presence alongside him. This is more or less the argument that cost Jonas Brodin the Calder last season; he played alongside a guy who probably should have won the Norris, and thus it's hard to say exactly how good or bad he would have been on his own.
You can make the same argument for Jones: Weber has been outstanding this season, rounding back into form after an off year in the lockout-shortened season, once he was finally away from Ryan Suter and playing instead alongside Roman Josi. This isn't to say Josi is by any measure a bad defenseman, but he's also not what Suter is and Jones will likely become within the next two-ish seasons. Jones (playing on the left side rather than his customary right, mind you) seems to do things for Weber that Josi perhaps could not, and if he's in the Suter mold — smooth-skating and excellent — then that's great news for Weber and the Predators alike. Let's put it this way: If Jones couldn't play alongside Weber for all those minutes, he simply wouldn't. Barry Trotz is not putting him on that pairing for fun; he's trying to win games.
There's more than a little ways to go before these teams are picked but if the first dozen games of his NHL career are any indication, Seth Jones is already one of the best American-born defensemen alive, and deserves to represent his country in Sochi just as much as any of the other candidates. To put it in league terms, the rookie has to this point made it very hard for his general manager to leave him home, and soon he might have no choice at all.
If the question is, “What seven guys do you bring ahead of him?” I'm not sure there's a good answer.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Tough break — literally, I guess — for the Ducks: Jakob Silfverberg is out at least a month with a broken hand thanks to a slash from Jared Cowen on Friday night. He's fourth on the team in scoring behind Mathieu Perreault, who himself is day-to-day with a sprained wrist. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, keep your hands inside the bus at all times.
Calgary Flames: The Flames absolutely crushed the Capitals on Saturday night. Demolished them. Alex Ovechkin, who came in with 8-7-15 in seven career games against the Flames and 10-5-15 in 10 games this year, was 0-fer in 22:50 against a team backstopped by Karri Ramo.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are apparently keeping Elias Lindholm on the roster this season, despite the fact that they're playing him just nine minutes a night on the fourth line. At least he seems to be enjoying himself.
Dallas Stars: Ryan Garbutt got a five-game suspension and then went, “Huh, if I keep trying to kill people I'm gonna get suspended a lot? I better stop trying to kill people then.” So, y'know, it's not impossible.
Detroit Red Wings: The offense has been so bad for Detroit lately that Mike Babcock broke up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk for the first time in a long while, despite saying he wouldn't. Did it work? The Wings got goals from Drew Miller and Daniel Alfredsson, and lost 3-2 to the Rangers. So, no. Back to the drawing board.
Florida Panthers: Brad Boyes being criticized for his defensive play? THE Brad Boyes? No way.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have partnered with legendary graffiti artist Mister Cartoon to create merchandise for the team. Sure, you start with graffiti, and soon Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are smoking behind the 7-Eleven
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Viktor Stalberg signed a four-year deal with Nashville this summer and now finds himself scratched in two straight games. Off to a no-fun, “embarrassing” start.
New Jersey Devils: The reason Jaromir Jagr only has two goals this season? He doesn't like his new sticks. The company that used to make his sticks went bankrupt, apparently. Like Jagr didn't have the money to keep 'em afloat. C'mon Jaromir.
New York Islanders: So Garth Snow looked at his .500 team, 29th in the league in 5-on-5 goals against, and decided to trade first- and second-round picks for a guy who improves their offense (seventh in 5-on-5 goals for), when the same team has a No. 1 goalie available. This all makes perfect sense.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist is “ready” to start the Rangers' home opener tonight after a brief mystery injury, but he probably said that before all those other games where he was bad this year.
Ottawa Senators: Milan Michalek has been bad for the Sens so far this season. Only two goals and six points, despite spending a lot of time alongside Jason Spezza, who's better than a point a game so far this year.
San Jose Sharks: “Why this may be the best San Jose Sharks team in franchise history.” What's this “may” stuff?
St. Louis Blues: Seriously, how did Alex Steen of all people start out the season like this?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Marty St. Louis says the reason the Bolts came back to beat the Sabres is that “good teams always find a way to win.” While it's indisputable that the Lightning have been excellent this season, one must also note that good teams sometimes also play the Sabres.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Addendum to the above note on the Fleury-est goal: Letting Dave Bolland score on a shorthanded breakaway slap shot might be up there too.
Play of the Weekend
This was a really nice goal from Flames first-rounder (haha) Mark Jankowski against Miami University on Friday night. Really, really nice.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “SupremeTeam16” has a rhyming name and ridiculous idea for you:
Nail Yakupov + 2014 1st + Nick Schultz + Martin Marincin
PK Subban + Fucale
You mean you didn't just throw a candy bar in the pool?
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