NEWARK, N.J. — The Nashville Predators selected Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones with the No. 4 overall NHL draft pick Sunday.
Many experts expressed their surprise that Jones, rated No. 1 by many scouting services, wasn’t one of the first three picks.
“I’m extremely happy with where I am,” Jones said. “I’m pretty familiar with (assistant coach) Phil Housley. I’m glad I’ll be playing under (team captain) Shea Weber.
“It’s been a long journey to now and it’s finally over and we can finally start a new chapter.”
Jones, 18, listed at 6-foot-4, 206 pounds, was a cornerstone of the Winterhawks’ WHL championship season, helping his team reach the final of the Memorial Cup tournament.
“We’re incredibly proud of Seth for being selected fourth overall,” Portland Winterhawks general manager and head coach Mike Johnston said in statement. “He arrived under a great deal of scrutiny, but surpassed all expectations. He was a vital component of our WHL championship and I know he has a long NHL career ahead of him.”
The WHL rookie of the year scored 14 goals and added 42 assists in 61 games in his first season with the Winterhawks. He had five goals in 21 playoff games. Jones also starred on the international stage, leading the United States to a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championship where he had seven points, second among all defensemen at the tournament.
The Colorado Avalanche selected center Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads with the first pick.
The 17-year-old MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, is a solid two-way presence with strong hands and stick-handling and skating skills. He is considered a natural scorer and a very good puck distributor.
The Avalanche won the draft lottery for the first time in team history and had made it clear that MacKinnon was going to be their top pick.
The Florida Panthers made center Aleksander Barkov, the top-ranked European skater, the second overall pick. The Tampa Bay Lightning picked Jonathan Drouin, also of Halifax, at No. 3.
Jones, who lived in Colorado as a youth and seemed a perfect fit for the Avalanche, has ties to Tennessee, as well. Popeye Jones owns a house there, and there is still family throughout the state.
“It’s a perfect spot for him,” Popeye Jones said, proudly. “He’ll be motivated there, and ready to go.”
Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic gave Jones some advice on getting Seth more interested in hockey when they both played in Denver more than a decade ago. Popeye Jones later developed a friendship with Colorado goalie, and now coach, Patrick Roy.
The draft storyline that had Jones joining the franchise that encouraged his push into hockey went bust on the very first pick.
“It definitely sounded too good to be true. It turned out that way,” Seth Jones said. “But not really. I mean, I’m not unhappy that they didn’t choose me. It was their decision, and that’s what they thought would be best for their organization.
“You’ve got to respect that.”
In the second round, Winterhawks center Nic Petan was picked by the Winnipeg Jets with the 43rd overall selection.
In the third round, Winterhawks right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 89th overall pick.
In the sixth round, Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke went to the Phoenix Coyotes with the 163rd pick. He is the son of Coyotes goaltenders coach Sean Burke.