Michael McCarron was selected 25th overall by the Montreal Canadiens. Photo by Getty Images.
NEWARK, N.J. -- It might have been a minor disappointment that defenseman Seth Jones slipped to fourth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft Sunday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
After all Jones, a former standout at USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, had a chance of being picked first overall by his hometown Colorado Avalanche. But slipping three spots to the Nashville Predators — and a possible future pairing with all-world defenseman Shea Weber — was a nice consolation prize.
“It definitely sounded too good to be true, and it turned out that way,” said Jones, who helped Team USA win the 2013 World Junior Championship. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about going to those teams (Colorado, Florida and Tampa Bay, who had the first three picks), but at the same time I’m excited to be a Predator, and obviously Shea Weber is there.”
Jones highlighted a group of three U.S. players chosen in the first round Sunday. The others were right wings Michael McCarron (25th to Montreal) and Ryan Hartman (30th to Chicago). Jones, McCarron and Hartman are all NTDP alumni.
Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, gave a lot of credit for his rapid development as a player to the two years he spent at the NTDP in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It helped me a ton,” said Jones, who was born in Texas when his dad played for the Dallas Mavericks but played most of his youth hockey in Colorado after his father joined the Denver Nuggets. “I went [to Ann Arbor] to develop on and off the ice, and we’d work out really hard there, and I came out of there weighing 20-25 pounds heavier after two years. That was my main goal when I went there, and it happened, and that definitely played a huge part in my career. I’m very thankful that I went there.”
McCarron, who is committed to Western Michigan for next season, also acknowledged the NTDP as having a major impact on his growth as a player.
“The program, they really emphasize everything off the ice,” said McCarron, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound right wing from Macomb, Mich. “Your first year is really not about winning, it’s about getting bigger, putting in the work in the workout room there. When I first got there, I was a lanky kid, needed to put on some pounds and muscle and that’s definitely what it did for sure.”
Once Hartman was off the board, the floodgates opened, with four of the next eight choices being U.S.-born players. By the time the Devils made the NTDP’s Steven Santini their first pick at number 42, eight U.S. natives had been drafted.
Of the eight, five played for the NTDP at some point over the last couple of seasons. Overall, 12 current NTDP members were selected throughout the entire draft, as well as numerous alumni.
There’s little question the NTDP has a dramatic positive impact on U.S. fortunes at the draft.
“My two years in the national program were amazing,” said left wing J.T. Compher, a Northbrook, Ill. native who was selected by Buffalo 35th overall. “They physically developed me and mentally developed me and made me into an overall well-rounded player. The program has made USA Hockey very competitive over the last 10-15 years and I think it showed today — with Seth Jones going early, Ryan Hartman, Michael McCarron — there’s some great players coming out of the national program and it’s just making USA Hockey that much better.”
“I think the NTDP is just a great place because it develops so many aspects of your game,” added Santini, a defenseman from nearby Mahopac, N.Y. “It helps to develop good character, take care of your schoolwork, it makes you stronger in the weight room, you get a little tougher, you work on your skating, you have the best coaches to break down film. In my opinion, it’s the best place in the world to develop. I’m so lucky and so blessed to have had that opportunity to play there.”
One other indication of the NTDP’s success can be measured by Team USA’s recent success at the World Junior Championship, including the 2013 gold medal.
“It was unbelievable. Winning a gold medal is a tremendous honor and being able to put the USA jersey on again was awesome,” said Hartman, a two-year NTDP alumnus. “We placed seventh the year before, so we didn’t have any expectations going into it and obviously got the gold medal. It was a really great experience for me.”
Jones played a major role on the U.S. gold-medal squad and relished the chance to measure himself against elite competition.
“It was a phenomenal tournament,” said Jones, who scored a goal and seven points in seven games, while also registering a plus-8 rating that ranked third in the tournament. “We didn’t get off to a great start, but we finished strong. You have a lot of NHL prospects that I played with and against, so it’s good to do that and really challenge yourself, and that’s exactly what happened there. Myself and the whole team had to play great to win that tournament, and we did.”
Of course, getting drafted is just the first step on the journey to a successful career. The monumental task of trying to reach the NHL comes next.
Of the Americans chosen Sunday in Newark, Jones undoubtedly has the best chance of contributing to his club right away in 2013-14.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to make it, but that's ultimately up to the coaches and staff,” said Jones, the only defenseman chosen among the first six picks. “That’s my goal. That’s what I’m going to work after starting this week when I get back home. Obviously, I have the development camp in Nashville, but then you’ve got to earn your spot.
“I think I can be a solid defenseman, produce a little bit offensively, as well. I know people say it takes time for defensemen to really grow in the league, a couple years at least, so hopefully I can prove that theory wrong.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Year||# of Picks|
|1||25||Montreal||Michael McCarron||Right Wing||2011-13|
|1||30||Chicago||Ryan Hartman||Right Wing||2010-12|
|2||35||Buffalo||J.T. Compher||Left Wing||2011-13|
|2||42||New Jersey||Steven Santini||Defense||2011-13|
|2||47||St. Louis||Tommy Vannelli*||Defense||2012-13|
|4||118||Los Angeles||Hudson Fasching||Right Wing||2011-13|
|5||151||San Jose||Gage Ausmus||Defense||2011-13|
*Skated in 20 games with the U.S. National Under-18 Team during the 2012-13 season.