Seth Jones gives the Nashville Predators another first-round draft pick on defense. He does not, however, give them one more.
Nashville used the fourth overall selection Sunday to take the player many considered the No. 1 overall prospect in this year’s NHL draft. That made Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, the fifth defenseman among the franchise’s last nine first-round picks.
That decision, though, also guaranteed that one of those first-rounders, Jonathon Blum (23rd overall in 2007) would not return in 2013-14.
As of last week, the Predators had not made the qualifying offer necessary to retain the rights to Blum, who is eligible for restricted free agency. General manager David Poile said he wanted to keep his options open in that regard pending the results of the draft but wanted to make a change.
The deadline for qualifying offers is Tuesday, and with Jones in the fold and a candidate to make the NHL roster in the fall Blum will not get that offer. Thus he will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team beginning Friday.
“Time will tell,” Poile said. “We’re talking about 18-year-old kids so it’s going to take time but the obvious thing is [Jones is] a big kid. He’s well-built. We’re going to give him every chance to make our team coming out of training camp.”
Blum has had his chances.
He made his NHL debut late in the 2010-11 season and spent all or part of the last two seasons with Nashville. He has played 91 career NHL games during which he has scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) and had a minus-7 rating. He also appeared in all 12 playoff games in 2011 but was down in Milwaukee during the 2012 postseason.
Six years after he was drafted, he remains well down on the organizational depth chart.
Veterans Shea Weber and Kevin Klein are signed through 2026 and 2018, respectively. Roman Josi, drafted a year after Blum, recently signed a deal that keeps him with the Predators through 2020. All three were second-round picks.
Ryan Ellis (11th overall, 2009), the last first-round defenseman until Jones, enters a contract year in 2013-14 and team executives want to give him every opportunity to succeed. The same is true of Mattias Ekholm, a fourth-round choice in 2009 who has played just one full season in North America.
Nashville also has veteran Hal Gill and 25-year-old Victor Bartley, who recently signed a three-year deal, under contract.
That’s seven defensemen already, not including Jones.
“I think I have the potential to play in the NHL next year, but nothing is guaranteed in this line of work, and you've got to earn where you play,” Jones said. “I'm going to go into camp and try to earn a spot.”
He will have plenty of competition.
“We have some good talent there,” Poile said. “I think we just need a little time to see what we’ve got. Seth Jones is going to be a developmental camp [which begins Sunday]. We’ll see how that goes. Training camp, I don’t think I’m under any pressure to do anything. Maybe something will come to us, but I’m pretty comfortable with where we are right now.”
That means Blum will be somewhere else next season.