Take a moment, everyone.
Seth Jones is very likely going to make the Predators roster out of training camp. He could of course be sent down to his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks but in all likelihood will start the season jockeying for top four minutes alongside Kevin Klein, battling it out for preference nightly with the likes of Matthias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and baby faced Victor Bartley.
My first reaction: This has certainly never happened before, right?
Webs and Sutes spent a few years in Milwaukee, Skrastins was in Europe for a bit, Hamhuis spent a few seasons in Milwaukee as well, Franson and Blum stuck around to win a memorial or cup or two, same with Ryan Ellis. Kevin Klein spent the very last bits of his junior eligibility in my native Guelph (Ditto for Ryan Parent), Roman Josi honed his craft with his hometown SC Bern, dominating and winning a Swiss League Championship and even Matthias Ekholm won the Borje Salming award while leading Brynas to playoff success. Last but certainly not least, given the way he played last season in his first go around of NHL action, Victor Bartley was undrafted and signed on as a try out contract, making an AHL All Star team.
So now in 2013 Seth Jones is (quite likely) making the team out of training camp? Good God Almighty. While this is certainly promising news that bodes well for the young mans' future as well as the hopes of Nashville finally having the NHL's best defensive unit (We came closest with Webs-Sutes-Hamhuis-Young Franson and of course the Zidlicky-Timonen years) as well as for the teams' fortunes heading deep into the next decade. Seems like reason to rejoice then, no? Of course but there are still 3 (likely more) reasons to be concerned for this unique development:
All drafted with high picks (5th, 2nd and 1st respectively) rushed into to top four roles with mediocre teams, each stalled developmentally whilst experiencing difficulties with confidence and poise. Their careers have never fully recovered, Luke Schenn became the Leafs whipping boy and was traded to Philly for JVR, where it is hoped he can regain his confidence,"Erik Johnson bust" is the third option to come up when you google his name and was traded to Colorado for seemingly inferior talent while Victor Hedman, despite his extraordinary gifts (6'4, excellent skating and above average hockey sense) remains mediocre and anchors the worst defensive unit in the league, a group that yearly sabotages the exemplary offensive efforts of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and co. while spoiling the first #1 role of our beloved Anders Lindback, leading to Tampa Bay finishing ahead of us somehow in the draft ranking last year while posting a near even goal differential (folks, we've come full circle!). These are the most recent examples but the story of Jay Bouwmeester should never be forgotten, how would his career have gone if he had been drafted by the Red Wings?
The road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee, an adage we hear time and time again and are reminded of it's wisdom as we see Craig Smith flirt with the Calder trophy through the first half of his rookie season, and then abruptly fall off the map and end up in NHL forward purgatory (He doesn't score enough to play on the top two lines, and isn't gritty or defensively aware enough to play on the bottom two lines) not to mention Barry Trotzes' Doghouse, as questions of his future become more and more uncertain. How could a player with his skillset, intelligence and motor have such trouble becoming a stable NHL player? He is young, yes but this period of uncertainty bodes poorly for the rest of his career and has been unfortunate to watch, especially as the Predators posted one of the worst offensive seasons in history last year.
What to make then, of one of the best defensive prospects of the last decade and a half? Seth Jones seems to certainly possess all the qualities necessary to handle the NHL as a teenager and is in a much better situation than the aforementioned players. Schenn, Hedman, Johnson and Bouwmeester were all expected to be number one D men coming out of the gate, leading terrible NHL teams to at least mediocrity with their presumed poise, maturity and brilliance. With Shea Weber, Roman Josi and the dynamic and durable Kevin Klein maybe it's time for an NHL team to go through this process correctly. Perhaps we can see Jones given just as much ice time and opportunity as he needs to develop into Shea Weber lite while being given enough shelter to avoid developing Luke Schenn's anxiety, Victor Hedmans lack of ambition or the overwhelming burden of over-responsibility that led Jay Bouwmeester to amass a 15 point season in his prime.
At the very least, my bitterness of not finally drafting a First Line Center is gone as The Seth Jones Era dips its first toe into the NHL swimming pool. Things look like bright for this squad, especially with youngsters Filip Forsberg and Colin Wilson (we have a bevvy of wonderful young prospects who will become fan favourites [looking at you, Taylor Beck!] but there are only two real difference makers and potential top line players in that group), a healthy (knock on wood) Pekka Rinne and a forward cast that may not be flashy but possesses excellent depth, character and of course, #grit. If we can stay healthy, score enough goals to win games 4-2 (with an empty netter) and find good chemistry and predictability within our forward lines (Bourque-Legwand? Stalberg-Cullen? Hornqvist-Wilson?) Seth Jones' transition through the water wings stage to doing cannonballs off the diving board will be smooth, productive and above all else, exciting.