Mike Johnston has only coached Seth Jones for three months, but the big defenseman for the Portland Winterhawks has already made an impression.
"I'm a big believer in having the right role models in your room," Johnston told NHL.com, "and he's a very good role model for the players."
In his first Western Hockey League season, Jones has lived up to the lofty expectations that preceded him. In 24 games, he has 17 points and a plus-17 rating, and has been a big factor in the Winterhawks' current 16-1-0 run, which included a 12-game win streak. During that span, Jones has six goals, nine assists and a plus-18 rating.
"What I've seen, it took him a couple weeks to get adjusted to the league," Johnston said. "Whether it was style of play or number of games, those types of things. He's a very smart player. He has a great presence on the ice and in the dressing room. He can dictate the terms of the game, both offensively and defensively."
While Jones' numbers are impressive, Johnston said he expects his team's blueliners to contribute in a big way to the offense -- 40 goals as a group is his goal -- and he said he's sure Jones' offensive numbers will go up as the season goes on.
"His offensive production hasn't been reflected in the numbers as opposed to quality chances," he said. "He gets great chances every game and I think certainly his numbers will go up."
Defensively, Johnston said he's been impressed by how quickly Jones is able to transition the play from defense to offense.
"A lot of times when he's on the ice, we don't spend that much time in our zone," he said. "The key thing for me is defensively, when players come down on him or when the puck is in our own zone, he closes quick. He's a big, rangy guy, he separates guys from the puck. He doesn't over-hit and get over-involved in too much of the physical game. He closes quick, separates, gets the puck, moves it -- it's almost bang-bang-bang. It's quick, decisive, close it off, get the puck moving in the other direction."
Most hockey fans knew Jones' story entering the season -- the son of former NBA power forward and current NBA assistant coach Popeye Jones, raised in the non-traditional hockey market of Texas. But he entered the season considered by some to be the most talented player available for the 2013 NHL Draft, and NHL Central Scouting ranked him No. 1 in its preliminary top 25 of draft-eligible skaters in the WHL. But if Jones is feeling any pressure, Johnston has yet to notice.
"You can see that he's grown up in a professional environment," Johnston said. "I'm sure his dad has given him tips along the way or some guidance, [but] he has the presence off the ice of a 20-year-old. He looks like a pro, acts like a pro, carries himself that way. Whether it's the draft, or situations in games, you can't really tell if a lot bothers him. He doesn't show it. He keeps it fairly even-keeled, especially in games. Nothing rattles him in a game. You never see his emotions go really high or really low. He keeps a very even keel. Very focused on the game.
"I'm dealing with teenage kids and there's a lot of emotion in the game, which is exciting at times. Some of the kids, they go really high or really low depending on what's going on in the game. It's nice to have an athlete that's always focused on the next shift, the next game, the next opportunity. He doesn't get too rattled by what's happened or what has gone on on the ice."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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