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Likely top pick Jones projects as complete package

Wednesday, 05.22.2013 / 9:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Here's what we know about Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones.

He's not only No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2013 NHL Draft, but was regarded as the consensus first pick in three mock drafts conducted by NHL.com staffers.

We also know Jones takes great pride in his skating and powerful shot, in addition to his propensity to transition quickly.

"I think your ability to move the puck quickly and overall skating are the two most important qualities you need to have as an NHL defenseman today," Jones told NHL.com.

He can create offense, as evidenced by his 56 points in 61 regular-season games this season, his first in the Western Hockey League, and he also has been praised for his ability to consistently shut down top opposition forwards.

"He skates as well as anyone in the league, is smart and has all the potential there is to becoming one of the top [defensemen] in the NHL one day," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com.

The late Tim Taylor, who served as USA Hockey director of player personnel for the gold medal-winning United States National Junior Team at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, was asked to assess Jones following the team's three-day selection camp last December.

Taylor's coaching resume includes a historic 28-year run as coach at Yale University, in addition to coaching at many international events.

"I'm kind of speechless," Taylor told NHL.com when asked to dissect Jones' game. "He's got that wonderful combination of athletic ability, hockey sense, size and character. When you get all of that in one package, it's pretty hard to find a better prospect. I know this kid very well, know his leadership abilities and calmness under pressure, his confidence level and upside. He's a very rare U.S. talent."

Jones doesn't take those compliments lightly.

"Coach Taylor helped bring USA Hockey to where it is today," Jones said. "He was a great person and did a lot for me and USA Hockey and no one will ever forget it. Knowing he said that about me is a tremendous honor. It's awesome to hear something like that."

Jones also happens to be the son of former NBA player Ronald "Popeye" Jones, who spent 12 seasons in the league, including time with the Denver Nuggets. And wouldn't you know it, the Colorado Avalanche hold the No. 1 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.

"He's used to handling the limelight [because of that family pedigree], and I don't know if he likes it so much, but his overall game is just so smooth, sometimes he does things you don't even notice, but he has complete control with his shifts and doesn't get rattled," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "Overall, he does everything so smoothly. After a while, you almost take him for granted."

Jones said he enjoys the attention and relishes the big moments of every game.

"I love the big stage and playing in the big games," he said. "You have to enjoy the position. I know a lot of people would enjoy being where I am, so I'm thankful for everything I have right now."

"Popeye" Jones was selected by Houston Rockets in the second round (No. 41) of the 1992 NBA Draft. It's all but guaranteed Seth will own family bragging rights as the higher draft pick between the two.

By all indications, he should be the first player taken off the draft board. Those expectations don't seem to rattle the 18-year-old, either.

"There's really nothing that ever makes me uncomfortable or nervous," Jones said. "Everyone is going to make mistakes, but I think it's a challenge to go outside your comfort zone and to be the best you can be. Off the ice, I might get asked the same question over and over [by the media], but I'm always trying to find a different answer and different ways of approaching those topics."

If he is selected No. 1, Jones would be the seventh-ever American-born top choice, and first since the Chicago Blackhawks selected Patrick Kane in 2007. He also would become the highest-drafted black player in the 51-year history of the NHL draft. Evander Kane currently holds that distinction after being selected No. 4 by the Atlanta Thrashers at the 2009 draft.

When asked if he considers himself a role model for young African-Americans, the 6-foot-3.5, 205-pound prospect smiled.

"I think that's a great category to be in," he said. "Anytime I can excite other people to play the game of hockey, I'm obviously doing something good."

"Knowing Seth could be selected No. 1 shows a lot of change, and it's obviously great for the game of hockey," Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban told NHL.com. "It's not just great for me, but great for everybody. But first and foremost, you want him to be seen as a great player and not just a black player. That's how I've gone about my career. Just kind of try and make myself the best player possible."

Two other minority players in the running to hear their name announced at the draft are Justin Bailey of the Kitchener Rangers Jordan Subban -- youngest of the three hockey-playing Subban brothers -- of the Belleville Bulls, both in the Ontario Hockey League.

"I think hockey is probably the only sport that there aren't as many African-Americans involved, but I think more kids are starting to play now since there are more guys making it and they're becoming role models," Bailey told NHL.com. "I think with Seth Jones, no matter if he went first, second or third, it won't matter because he's going to be a great NHL player someday. I think he'll be a great role model, and hopefully more kids will pick up the game of ice hockey."

The middle Subban brother, Malcolm, was drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins last year. Jordan is excited for Jones and the impact he might have on minority players looking to one day pick up a hockey stick.

"It shows how the game is evolving with diversity and you see more ethnic players of different backgrounds playing and being successful," Jordan Subban told NHL.com. "I think that's great for the game … it will only help the game grow."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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