Seth Jones could be a slam dunk in NHL Draft

Seth Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, could be an NHL pioneer.

06/26/2013 12:01 AM

06/26/2013 12:53 AM

Being that Seth Jones is 6-4, has great feet and is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, don’t be surprised if the 18-year-old is the top pick in the upcoming draft.

And although he claims to have a great jump shot, the younger Jones isn’t going to be selected by an NBA team when it holds its draft Thursday.

Instead, the smooth-skating defenseman could be the top pick of the NHL Draft in Newark, N.J., on Sunday afternoon.

Jones, ranked the top prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting, would be the first black player selected first in an NHL Draft if Colorado takes him or trades the pick to a team that will.

“I’m just trying to take this each step of the way,” Jones said last week. “It has been real cool being able to share this experience with my family. It’s going to be a lot of fun.’’

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic — who, unbeknownst to him at the time, played a key role in Jones’ development as a hockey player — told the Denver Post last week the Avs are “leaning” toward picking one of the top-end forwards in this talent-heavy draft.

The Panthers, who are rumored to want center Nathan MacKinnon, are reportedly talking to Colorado about swapping picks and moving up to the top slot.

If the Avs keep the pick and take MacKinnon, then the Panthers are expected to take Jones and bolster their defensive core.

Jones, who got his start playing hockey in the Denver area when he was 5, said he will be happy with whomever selects him.

“I’ve had meetings, but there are no secrets to tell,” Jones said. “Pretty standard stuff. Who knows what teams are thinking right now? A lot could happen.”

MOUNTAIN MAN

Jones, like many his age growing up in the Denver area, got hooked on hockey thanks to the excitement surrounding the success of the Avalanche.

Living in Denver because his dad was playing for the Nuggets, Jones and his neighborhood friends played hockey in the street. When his father took him to a local ice rink for the first time, Seth laced up the skates and was off.

One day at the Pepsi Center — where the Nuggets and Avs play — Popeye Jones ran into Sakic, then a player for the Avs, and started talking to him about how his son loved hockey.

Popeye Jones asked Sakic what his best advice was. Sakic figured Seth was going to grow and grow.

“Make sure he knows how to skate,” Sakic said.

Seth Jones then began his true indoctrination into hockey. He took lessons from a figure skater on “edge work, backward skating, crossovers, those kind of things,” he said. Today, one of Jones’ greatest attributes is his skating ability.

“I wouldn’t be where I am right now had I not spent a year doing that,” Jones said. “Skating is a big part of the game nowadays. You have to be a strong skater to succeed.”

Although the Jones family left Denver when Seth was about 12 and moved to Texas, he kept playing hockey for the junior Stars, among others.

Often questioned why he wasn’t playing basketball instead — Popeye Jones played 11 NBA seasons and has been an assistant coach for the Mavericks and Nets — Seth excelled on the ice.

“I’m 6-4 and pretty lanky. I fit the basketball description visually,” the younger Jones said. “And I love the game. I play in the summer with my brothers but never had the drive to play organized basketball. I’m pretty good, believe it or not, but I never had the drive to play.”

Jones was selected to play for the U.S. national developmental under-18 team in Michigan, where he spent two years before playing with the Portland (Ore.) Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League last year.

Last winter, Jones captained Team USA to a gold medal at the world junior tournament, scoring three goals with five assists in six games.

Although his hockey roots run deep in Colorado and Texas, Jones also has ties to the Panthers. One of Jones’ best friends is Quentin Shore, the younger brother of Florida rookie forward Drew Shore.

When Jones started playing hockey, he did so with Quentin and Nick Shore in Littleton, Colo. Jones would reunite with Quentin in Ann Arbor, Mich., as members of the U.S. team and were roommates for two seasons.

Jones is extremely close with the Shore family, and Drew — who was a star at the University of Denver before leaving to sign with the Panthers last spring — said he has been watching Jones’ progression.

Quentin Shore just finished his freshman season at Denver and could have Jones back as a roommate if the Avs go for defense with the first pick.

“Whomever Florida gets at No. 2 is going to be a great pick,” Drew Shore said. “Seth has done some phenomenal things the past few years, has made great strides. I’m happy for him; he’s a great kid. Whomever takes him is going to be thrilled. He’s pretty humble.”

READY TO PLAY?

Florida general manager Dale Tallon hasn’t tipped his hand on whom the Panthers will pick second — and he won’t say Jones would be the pick if he’s available.

If Jones isn’t taken in the top two picks, he probably won’t get past Tampa Bay at No. 3 because of its organizational need.

The Panthers want the player they pick next weekend to be able to play this coming season.

Because defensemen take a little longer to develop than forwards, it’s possible the Panthers pass and grab one of the forwards — MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov — to help bolster their offense.

Word from a few general managers is that Tallon is leaning toward Jones if MacKinnon isn’t available.

Shore and Jonathan Huberdeau, who played against Jones in juniors and at world juniors, say Jones’ game is ready for the NHL now.

“I played against him at world juniors, and he’s a great defenseman,” said Huberdeau, the Panthers’ 20-year-old who recently won the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

“He’s really big and is a good offensive defenseman. He really hurt us.”

Said Shore: “There aren’t many defensemen in the league who are his size, super skilled and can see the ice like he can. He’s got the complete package.”

ROLE MODEL

Jones said he would embrace the challenge of having black hockey players look up to him as a role model.

One player Jones looks up to is Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban — this year’s winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.

“It’s obviously pretty deep to put something like that on one person’s shoulders,” Jones said. “Whatever I can do to help African-Americans take up the game, I’ll do.”

Jones will have a large contingency this weekend at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a building his father knows well as he was an assistant for the New Jersey Nets when they played there.

Although he would love being the top pick in 2013, Jones said he’s just going to have fun with it. He won’t have to wait long to hear his name called, signaling the official beginning of his new life in the NHL.

“No matter where I go, it’s going to be a memorable day for me and my family,” he said. “It seems very surreal to think I could be playing in an NHL game in a few months. It’s a great feeling. It sends chills throughout my body just thinking of it.”

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