The 2013 National Hockey League Draft was as deep in talented defensemen as it was steeped in diversity.
And some defensemen from diverse backgrounds selected in that draft at New Jersey’s Prudential Center are beginning to make their mark in the professional game.
Each player is chasing his dream for National Hockey League stardom, climbing professional hockey’s ladder at his own pace – or that dictated by the team that drafted him.
Jones, taken by the Nashville Predators with the fourth overall pick of the draft, hasn’t spent a day in the minor leagues. But after he spent more than two seasons in Music City, the Predators traded him last week to the Columbus Blue Jackets for talented but enigmatic center Ryan Johansen.
The swap from Nashville, currently sixth in the NHL’s Western Conference, to Columbus, dwelling in the NHL Eastern Conference cellar, wasn’t a knock on Jones’ play.
In 40 games with the Predators, Jones tallied 1 goal and 10 assists and averaged 19:42 minutes on ice per game.
With Columbus, he’ll play more minutes and see more power play time and penalty-killing action under demanding Head Coach John Tortorella. He’ll go from being one of the guys on Nashville’s blue line to being The Man on the Blue Jackets back end.
“He’s going to get a lot bigger role with our team,”Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters last week. “He’s 21 years old and he’s got the future ahead of him and a lot of room for growth and development. We believe he’s a good two-way defenseman that can add some offense to our game.”
Ironically, one of the last things Jones saw in Nashville was the player he was traded for as he and Johansen passed each other at the airport. Jones expressed excitement about the new opportunity in Columbus.
“They made it pretty clear that they’re going to throw a little bit more at me than I’ve been used to getting,” Jones told reporters in Columbus. “I’m excited and ready to take on the challenge.”
Nurse believed he was NHL-ready from the moment he slipped on an Oilers jersey on draft day. But the team’s brain trust thought otherwise and sent him back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League, for the 2013-14 season. He went back to the Soo again in 2014-15.
He was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors, the Olilers’ AHL affiliate, after this season’s
training camp and was called up to the parent club after some of its defensemen suffered injuries.
Since then, Nurse has tallied 2 goals and 5 assists while averaging 21 minutes of ice time per game in 34 games. He’s also added a little toughness to an offensively-talented but grit-challenged Oilers lineup. He’s amassed 19 penalty minutes, five of them coming from a fight against Milan Lucic, the Los Angeles Kings’ physically-imposing and feared veteran forward.
Some thought the bout was too much too soon for the rookie Nurse. He didn’t.
“My mum was like, ‘What are you doing?’ My dad said he was proud of me,” Nurse told The Edmonton Journal. “This (fighting) is something I’m going to have to do the way I play.”
Madison Bowey is only a two-hour drive from where he hopes to eventually be: With the Washington Capitals. The team took Bowey in the second round with the 53rd pick of the 2013 draft.
After he captained his Western Hockey League Kelowna Rockets to the MasterCard Memorial Cup Final last season and teamed up with Nurse on the blue line to help a diverse Team Canada win the Gold Medal at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, the Capitals sent Bowey to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
He has 2 goals, 11 assists, and 24 penalty minutes in 33 games with the Bears.
“I think it’s been going pretty well,” Bowey told PennLive last month. “It’s a learning process and I’m learning a lot every day.”
Bears Head Coach Troy Mann agrees.
“From the bench as you watch him play, when he’s moving the puck and limiting his turnovers, he’s having a good game,” Mann told PennLive. “Like any young defenseman, there are nights where his gap control might not be as good as we need it to be, or his defensive-zone coverage. But I think he’s progressing the way we all thought he would. He’s a second-round pick that’s going to need some nurturing in the AHL for a couple seasons.”
Jordan Subban was chosen in the fourth-round of the 2013 draft by the Vancouver Canucks with the 115th pick. His older brother, Montreal Canadiens superstar defenseman P.K. Subban, declared before the draft that Jordan was a better, more cerebral blueliner than he is.
Like his big brother, Jordan is about offense from the back end. The 5-foot-9 defenseman notched 25 goals and 27 assists for the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls last season.
He’s continuing his offensive ways in his first season with for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ AHL farm team, where he has 5 goals and 14 assists in 29 games.
“The (AHL) is a little more skilled than I thought it was going to be,” Subban told Utica’s Observer-Dispatch in November. “It was a bit of an adjustment. There are a lot of good players…I think I’ve taken a big step in my zone, but I still have work to do.”
Jonathan-Ismael Diaby will be the first to admit that he’s still very much a work in progress. At 6-foot-5 and 223 pounds, he’s described himself as “bigger, taller and slower” compared to other hockey players.
But the Predators love his size – a “monster,” one scout called him – and his ruggedness. Nashville took him in the third round with the 64th pick in the 2013 draft.
Since then, the former Victoriaville Tigres defenseman has bounced between the Milwaukee Admirals, the Preds’ AHL affiliate, and Cincinnati Cyclones, Nashville’s ECHL farm team.
The son of a soccer player from the Ivory Coast, Diaby is scoreless in five AHL games this season but has 21 penalty minutes. He has 1 assist and 11 penalty minutes in 17 ECHL games.
“I just want to show more consistency and show that I’m more poised and more in control of the game,” Diaby told The Tennessean during the Predators’ training camp in September. “As a hockey player, you come to training camp, you want to make the team, but it’s a learning experience. I’ve still got a lot to learn and a lot to improve on. The AHL’s a great league.”