NHL Draft prospects: No. 1 Seth Jones

Seth Jones is the son of former NBA player, Ronald “Popeye” Jones. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Derek Mortensen

Sportsnet.ca is previewing the top 30 prospects in the 30 days leading up to the National Hockey League draft in New Jersey on June 30.

The top-ranked prospect is the all-world defenceman from the Portland Winterhawks, Seth Jones.

Stats: Portland Winterhawks (WHL) | 61 GP | 14 G | 42 A | 56 P | +46 | 33 PIM

Who is Seth Jones?
Seth Jones is the son of former NBA player, Ronald “Popeye” Jones. Seth took to hockey while his father was playing for the Denver Nuggets, and played minor hockey in Colorado and Dallas. He was a fan of the Detroit Red Wings as a kid and modeled his game after former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

Jones joined the United States National Team Development program in 2011 and represented the USA at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, earning a silver medal. He won back-to-back gold medals with Team USA at the 2011 and 2012 under-18 world championships, and was captain of the 2012 team. Jones also won a gold medal on USA’s world junior team in January.

Originally drafted by the Everett Silvertips, Jones’ rights were traded to Portland in May of 2012 and he opted to play for the Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League as opposed to playing college hockey. In Portland, Jones helped guide the Winterhawks to the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions, eventually losing in the MasterCard Memorial Cup final to the Halifax Mooseheads. He captured the WHL’s Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year after finishing fourth in scoring by defencemen, and was named the CHL’s Jack Link’s Top Prospect of the Year.

Seth Jones’ scouting report:
Jones is the mobile, offensive defenceman every NHL team covets. He has great size at six-foot-four, 205 pounds, and is a fluid skater. He can start the offence by rushing the puck up ice or with an expertly-placed pass through the neutral zone. Jones’ vision and playmaking skills are off the charts for a defenceman, and sometimes his forwards aren’t even ready for his breakaway passes through the middle. The puck snaps off his blade and is always on the tape.

Jones also owns a potent slapshot from the blue-line and a pinpoint accurate shot from the slot. He will often jump up in the rush and act as a fourth forward and play down low in the offensive zone. His hand skills are outstanding and will enable him to be a big-time point-producer at the NHL level.

Although offence is his forte, Jones can play a stout defensive game. He uses his size well for positioning, but isn’t naturally aggressive or mean, which is something the scouting world wanted to see, especially considering his size. Jones projects to be a franchise player who can start the offence with a rush or pass.

Teams who might be interested in Seth Jones:
The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers will be in the market for Jones’ services. Although the Avalanche are said to be interested in a forward for the first-overall pick, Jones is such a dynamic defenceman that he could force them to reconsider – if they aren’t already trying a misdirection by publicly stating their preference for a forward. Should he be available for the second pick, the Panthers may not have to think hard about their choice. Jones would make an immediate impact in Florida at a position of need.

Scout’s take: “There’s not much more Seth Jones could have done this year,” says David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “His junior career could arguably be one of the best ever when you look at the success he had at the international stage and in the WHL. This is a player that has the capacity to not only step into the NHL next year, but probably play some power-play minutes as well due to his shot and due to his ability to anchor the power-play.

“He’s an elite-level skater in terms of his glossy pivots,” Burstyn continues. “His ability to jump into the play, his ability to read and react accordingly to the play is top notch. Seth Jones is another player that can rush the puck or he can make a pass. At times, he can get a little bit careless in his own zone. He doesn’t mark his man quickly enough and he doesn’t hold his position, but these are all things I view as being coachable. If he can come and play at the NHL level with a little bit more of a heightened level of aggression and physicality, that will only round out his package. Considering all the other attributes he brings to the table with his skating, his speed, his skill and his size, Jones has the potential to be a quality minute-muncher playing upwards of 25 minutes a game at the NHL level, while producing points and keeping players in check.”

“Jones is almost everything you could ever want in a defender,” adds Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He is big, strong, rangy and incredibly intelligent. I remember watching him at the U18s last year and thinking that this was the best U18 defender I had watched to that point. He is very mature and can play in all three zones very well. His understanding of the whole game is not something you see in many defenders, even the most elite.

“He still has a lot of room to continue to build on his technical skills and get bigger and stronger. While most look at Jones and get the idea that he could be a Chris Pronger-type defender, Jones is more of a Lidstrom-style defender, calculating his time and space well and using his stick more to separate players than playing mean and using his body. He almost never panics and his poise with the puck is that of a seasoned pro, not a kid who has yet to play an NHL game. He is a franchise defender who can stabilize, not just a defensive crops, but an entire team.”

Rankings: Jones was ranked first by the NHL’s Central Scouting (North American skaters), first by McKeen’s Hockey and second by International Scouting Services.

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