Seth Jones was expected to be one of the top picks in the NHL Draft, but even after falling to No. 4 to the Nashville Predators still made hockey history with his selection.
Jones became the first black player to be drafted in the top 5 in the history of the NHL, and many see him as the best chance for the sport to expand its audience and break out of the niche status it has fallen into.
Even since returning from losing the 2004-05 season to a lockout, the NHL has struggled to regain the ratings and audience it once had in the peak of its popularity. Franchises outside of the traditional hockey-supporting areas have struggled, and television ratings have foundered.
But with the No. 4 pick in the NHL Draft, the Nashville Predators can help change that. Seth Jones has already gotten interest from Jay-Z’s sports Roc Nation Sports marketing firm, and is expected to make a splash.
His father Popeye Jones was a former NBA player, and now believes Seth has the potential to introduce hockey to a new audience.
“The way Amy and I always raised our boys, we told them they had the best of both worlds, they were black and white,” Popeye Jones said. “We never had any racial issues. … we’ve discussed this, and I think Amy and I know, and Seth knows, that he’s probably looked at more as an African-American player. That’s fine, he accepts that responsibility and understands he has a chance to help grow the game and hopefully bring more inner-city kids into the sport.”
At the NHL Draft on Sunday, the first black player in the NHL was on hand to meet and congratulate Seth Jones.
“I’m still alive to see this, and I’m thrilled,” said 77-year-old Willie O’Ree, who played for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
For the Nashville Predators, Seth Jones isn’t just a crossover star in the making. He’s a potential franchise player expected to bring the team to the next level.
“We had Jones rated No. 1,” said Predators general manager David Poile. “This is a franchise-type player.”
At the NHL Draft, Popeye Jones wondered what the impact would be if more black youths choose hockey, as Seth Jones did.
“But I’ve always said (what) if guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Allen Iverson had put on skates when they were four or five. I wonder what kind of hockey player you would get,” Popeye said.
The Predators will soon find out what they get in Seth Jones.