Seth Jones had 26 points in 48 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program last season. He hadn't scored at quite that level in his first few games this season with the Portland Winterhawks. But it's not that he wasn't playing well -- far from it, according to scouts who have raved about Jones' defensive-zone play and all-round game.
"This year he's playing smarter," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He's not trying to be as explosive with his skating ability that he has. He's playing a smarter game. Every time you get the puck, don't take off. Make good plays with it -- and he is. He's playing really smart this year. Last year with the [USNTDP] he took off every time, trying to be Bobby Orr. This year he's playing it a lot smarter, playing very well defensively. I just think he's playing a smarter game this year than he did as an underage."
"I like his ability to control the game," B.J. MacDonald of Central Scouting said. "His puckhandling skills and his great awareness, that seems to be his strength. He's really aware of everything on the ice and where everyone is and where to move the puck. And defensively, [he's] the same way. I really like his overall awareness. His on-ice awareness is excellent."
The past six games, though, show he's added that high-end offensive component to his defensive excellence, and showed why he's neck-and-neck with Halifax's Nathan MacKinnon to be the first pick of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Jones had a goal and an assist Wednesday in a 5-2 defeat of the Everett Silvertips. The goal was a dazzling display of Jones' full range of skills. Taking a pass at the defensive blue line, he raced the puck into the Everett end, cut to his left as he crossed the attacking blue line and pulled up above the circle like he was going to take a shot. Instead, he caught the defending player flat-footed and skated past him to the outside. As he approached the net, he quickly switched the puck from his backhand to his forehand and slid the puck under the goalie.
The win was the Winterhawks' sixth straight. In that span, Jones had four goals, four assists and a plus-8 rating.
The 6-foot-3.5, 208-pound defenseman had four goals, six assists and a plus-7 rating in 13 games.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK