NHL has two Black players picked in the top seven

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Seth Jones, a defenseman, pulls on a Nashville Predators sweater after being chosen 4th overall in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Sunday, June 30, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

by Dan Gelston and Ira Podell

AP Sports Writers

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Seth Jones won’t be going home to Colorado when his NHL career begins, however he will be heading to his famous father’s home state as a member of the Nashville Predators.

After being rated No. 1 among North American skaters in pre-draft rankings, Jones was bypassed by Colorado, Florida and Tampa Bay before being chosen by the Predators at No. 4.

The NHL had two Black players picked in the top seven with Jones at No.4 and Donovan McNabb’s nephew Darnell Nurse going to Edmonton at No. 7.

The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones seemed happy in his bright yellow Nashville jersey, and will be able to learn about playing NHL defense from new teammate Shea Weber.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about going to those teams, but at the same time I’m excited to be a Predator, and obviously Shea Weber is there,” he said Sunday about slipping a few spots. “He’s a great player, and they have a lot of other great players, and I’m happy to be a part of the organization.”

Popeye Jones is friends with one of the Predators scouts, and he said he was told that his son wouldn’t fall past Nashville at No. 4.

“I know he was probably sitting up there thinking, ‘Oh wow’ because somebody said you may go one, you may go two,” he said. “When I got drafted in ’92, I didn’t get to come to the draft. I was just glad to be drafted. I knew how nerve-racking it was watching it at home when I went 41. I am sure it was nerve-racking, but I’m sure he tried to stay calm and cool to see where he was going to go.”

Now Seth Jones has something else to prove, beyond the usual drive draft picks have to show that they belong in the NHL.

“I think professional athletes or athletes in general are always looking for something to motivate them because there is always going to be dog days where you may not want to lift or do extra crunches,” Popeye Jones said. “But you will look at this and say, ‘I got drafted fourth. Maybe I need to get to the weight room again and try to prove guys wrong that I should’ve went first.’

“You are also looking for that extra motivation.”

So now Popeye Jones, drafted by the NBA’s Houston Rockets in 1992 and traded to Dallas, knows what NHL team he will be throwing his support to.

“There is no disappointment in going to Nashville. It is such a great franchise,” he said. “It is my home state. I’ve got to get my Preds hat.”

 

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Darnell Nurse, a defenseman, puts on a Edmonton Oilers hat after being chosen seventh overall in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Sunday, June 30, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

 

After picking first the last three years, the Edmonton Oilers took defenseman Darnell Nurse, of Saulte Ste. Marie in the OHL, with the seventh choice. Nurse is the nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb posted a picture on Twitter of the two of them smiling together a couple of hours before the draft.

McNabb was famously booed by Eagles fans in the 1999 draft and was hurt for years by the reaction. Nurse heard polite applause in Newark.

“We’re even, because he went higher than me,” Nurse said, “but I didn’t get booed at my draft.”

Jones, who lived in Colorado as a youth and seemed a perfect fit for the Avalanche, has ties to Tennessee, as well. Popeye Jones owns a house there, and there is still family throughout the state.

“It’s a perfect spot for him,” Popeye Jones said, proudly. “He’ll be motivated there, and ready to go.”

Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby now share more than a hometown.

They’ve both been No. 1 picks in the NHL draft.

The Colorado Avalanche made the 17-year-old MacKinnon the first pick of the draft on Sunday at the Prudential Center.

The Avalanche won the draft lottery for the first time in team history and Joe Sakic, the man put in charge of Colorado’s rebuilding project, had made it clear that MacKinnon was going to be the top pick. He was the first player drafted No. 1 overall out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Crosby in 2005.

MacKinnon and Crosby are both from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

“I love Sid. He’s my favorite player,” MacKinnon said. “I guess he’s still my favorite player. I don’t really know what to say now since I’m going to be in the same league as him. I don’t know if I should dislike him or not.”

MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, said it all with a laugh. But he’s serious about making the big club this season with Colorado.

“Hopefully, I can make the team and stick there,” MacKinnon said. “I feel like I can be a contributor next year.”

MacKinnon is a solid two-way presence with strong hands and stick-handling and skating skills. He is considered a natural scorer and an excellent distributor. Sakic ended the guessing game in the final week when he said MacKinnon would be their pick.

“They said it in the media but I didn’t really get my hopes up,” MacKinnon said. “I was definitely more nervous than I expected to be a couple of minutes before the draft.”

He played for the Halifax Mooseheads and led them to the Memorial Cup championship. MacKinnon, who turns 18 on Sept. 1, was named tournament MVP after scoring 13 points.

Next stop, Colorado?

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