No matter what team you cheer for in any sport, your franchise of choice will always have those players that you look back on and think… how did we let him go? That future All-Star who looked just average as a rookie, or a veteran that was traded before they became a stalwart at their position.
Normally in this series, we look back at players who spent time with the Tampa Bay Lightning before they went off to make a name for themselves with another franchise. Today, however, things will be a bit different, as the player we are looking at never spent a moment in Tampa Bay. That player is Seth Jones.
Looking Back at the 2013 Draft
Before we discuss what the Lightning missed out on with Jones, we need to go back and look at the 2013 NHL Draft. Coming off a lockout-shortened season in which they utterly collapsed after a fast start, Tampa Bay had one point of solace: the third-overall pick.
At the time, the 2013 draft was seen as the deepest in years, with Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin having franchise-defining ability. This, along with a somewhat lesser-known European prospect named Aleksander Barkov who had top-three potential, gave the Lightning a one-in-four shot at selecting a potential new face of their franchise.
As debate raged over who was the top talent available, MacKinnon eventually went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche. Next, the Florida Panthers made a bit of a splash by taking Barkov second-overall, setting up the Lightning with a seemingly home-run scenario of either an elite playmaker with Drouin or a top defensive talent in Jones.
Lightning Pass on Jones
Despite the need for a blue-chip, right-handed defensive prospect, the Lightning passed on Jones, taking Drouin with the third-overall pick. While the pick was debated from the moment it was made, it did make sense at the time. As said by THW:
If Drouin had reached his full potential with Tampa Bay, then this decision would have been a moot point, as 100-point forwards are hard to come by.
As we know, Drouin did not reach the potential of a third-overall selection with the Lightning. He struggled to establish himself in the line-up and was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2017 for Mikhail Sergachev.
The good news for Tampa Bay is that Sergachev has developed into a solid defensive starter with top-four potential. So, even if Drouin wasn’t a home-run, they still managed to pull some meaningful value out of the pick.
What The Lightning Lost By Skipping Jones
Despite the Lightning eventually turning Drouin into Sergachev, it is impossible to look at the player they skipped out on and not feel regret. With the fourth-overall pick, the Nashville Predators took Jones, where he developed his game until he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016.
From there, he quickly developed into one of the Blue Jackets’ top players. In his first full season in Columbus, he posted 12 goals and 42 points, then followed that up with a 16 goal, 57 point campaign.
Even with some injury troubles, Jones has become a defensive lynchpin for the Blue Jackets alongside his partner Zack Werenski. The two complement each other perfectly, and when they are on the ice, you can argue that they are the best paring in the entire NHL.
Lightning Haunted By Missing Jones
If the story stopped there, then this would just be a missed opportunity for the Lightning. Sure, the idea of placing Jones on the top-line with Victor Hedman would make any fan excited, but passing on a potential star at the draft is nothing new in the NHL.
However, what makes this worse for the Lightning is the fact that the Blue Jackets have become a playoff gatekeeper for the franchise. With Jones and Werenski holding down the blue line, Columbus swept Tampa Bay in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs, despite being heavy underdogs.
In that playoffs, Jones led all players in ice-time, playing over 28 and a half minutes each night. Not only that, in the 2020 postseason he set the single-game record for playing time, posting a ridiculous 65 minutes in a 5OT epic against the Lightning.
Given where they stand now, passing on Jones has really come to haunt the Lightning. Not only did he develop into one of their biggest postseason nemesis, but the Bolts have yet to find someone to be Hedman’s permanent partner, which he could have become.
Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but Lightning fans will look back on the 2013 draft for years or maybe even decades and wonder what could have been…
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.