Pro hockey: Predators hoping Popeye Jones’ son becomes fixture on blue line

ESTERO ? Seth Jones had a chance to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, his favorite team as a child.

Jones is the son of Ronald ‘Popeye’ Jones, a former NBA journeyman who spent 11 seasons in the pros. As a member of the Denver Nuggets, the elder Jones spoke to then-captain of the Avalanche Joe Sakic about his son’s hockey interests.

However, Sakic, the current Avalanche general manager, passed on Jones, a defenseman, in the June draft, taking forward Nathan MacKinnon. So Jones ended up going to the Nashville Predators with the fourth pick.

‘Everything happens for a reason,’ said Jones, who was in Southwest Florida with the Predators for a three-day stint that concluded Thursday.

The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, at Nos. 2 and 3, also passed on Jones, opting for forwards.

Monday, Jones led the Predators in minutes played and registered two shots in the team’s preseason 3-2 overtime loss to the Panthers.

‘You can tell he is a great defenseman, and he is only going to get better,’ fellow defenseman and Predators captain Shea Weber said of Jones. ‘He is going to be a great player in this league for a long time.’

Jones has a professional advantage over many of the NHL’s young talent, thanks to his father’s professional background. However, Jones, who starred for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, has been in the spotlight for several years.

‘It’s kind of the same stuff I’ve been hearing for quite some time now,’ he said. ‘There’s only so much advice you can take from people. I always have my ears open to new things for what people have to say. (My dad) said a lot. It’s always good to have that backup there to keep my mind on. It’s all about experiencing it firsthand.’

The rookie not only has his father as a professional role model; he now has his teammates.

Jones, 18, is currently living with Weber, a nine-year NHL veteran, during the preseason.

‘I have a few veteran guys with two younger players at camp,’ Predators coach Barry Trotz said. ‘Some younger guys may play in the National Hockey League down the road. Some might play in the American Hockey League, and some might never play in either of those two situations. We believe it helps us culturally, and it helps our leaders become leaders.’

Weber was recently ranked as ESPN’s No. 3 NHL defenseman behind former Predator Ryan Suter.

The once-feared defensive combo is now just Weber. The Predators lost Suter during the 2012 free agency period to the Minnesota Wild, and the team suffered the consequences with a 16-24-2 record last season.

‘We lost an absolute superstar; that was a big piece that we didn’t really replace,’ Trotz said. ‘We missed him more than we’d like to admit.’

The void left by Suter at the blue line and a poor record paved the way for Jones. The 6-foot-4 rookie was given a shining opportunity with Weber, a consistent Norris Trophy candidate, lined up next to him, and his coach is thrilled with his potential.

‘The great thing about having an off year is that you get the chance to get a guy like Seth Jones,’ Trotz said. ‘Hopefully, Seth comes in and is the next Ryan Suter, if you will. He’s a potential guy that can, if he develops the way we think he can, develop into a real special player.’

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