With each passing day, Seth Jones looks more and more like the best American prospect in at least the last five years. At least. If he were NHL Draft-eligible this year, he’d be an easy first rounder, maybe even a top-five pick. However, his birthday falls just weeks after the cutoff for eligibility, meaning NHL teams will have to wait until 2013 to acquire the massive defenseman.
Because Jones has to wait, he had a big decision to make about where he will spend his draft eligible season, bigger than most, due to his unique situation.
Jones will age out of the National Team Development Program, where he spent the last two years. The NTDP is only a two-year program, meaning Jones had to make a choice for his all-important draft eligible season.
After accelerating his schooling to achieve senior status a year early, Jones had two options. He could go to the WHL or go the college route.
As was first reported by Jeff Spiegel of the Portland Tribune and also confirmed to me, Jones has signed with the Portland Winterhawks , choosing the WHL route for what the big defenseman hopes is a campaign for the first overall spot in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Jones was selected by the Everett Silvertips in the first round of the 2009 WHL bantam draft. Everett’s courtship of Jones was led by now former GM Doug Soetart, who was fired by the club earlier this year. Whether Soetart’s ouster played a role or not, Jones decided that Everett was an ill fit. After Jones expressed he did not want to play for the Silvertips, his negotiating rights were traded on April 23 to Portland.
Jones was also a hot commodity among U.S. colleges, an option that Jones thoroughly explored. The big defenseman decided that if he was going to college, he narrowed down his choices to the University of North Dakota.
When the trade between Portland and Everett was completed, it appeared that the writing was on the wall, however.
Jones is quite simply one of the best prospects in the game today. His 6-3, 200-plus-pound frame, to go along with gifted skating ability, strong puck skills, and an insane level of hockey sense, make him the total package.
An elite athlete in addition to a great hockey player, Jones is the son of former NBAer, Popeye Jones. So on top of being a special talent on the ice, Jones is also one of the great stories in hockey.
Having taken up an interest in the game while living in Denver, while Popeye played for the Nuggets, Jones ended up spending some of his most formative developmental years in Texas, the state of his birth and where the family settled down after Popeye’s retirement from playing.
So score one for non-traditional hockey markets as well.
It is difficult to put too much pressure on a 17-year-old kid, and raise expectations too soon, but there’s a good chance that Seth Jones is a game-changing prospect for hockey in the United States.
He will certainly be one of the most talked about players when he makes it to the NHL due to his impressive maturity, affability and his back story.
He may not have the impact of a Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but what he will have is instant fans no matter where he ends up.
He’s been talked about in hockey publications and beyond since he was 14 years old and every step along the way, Jones has somehow lived up to the impossible hype built up around him.
Next year will be one more step forward to realizing his potential. He will battle with Nathan MacKinnon for the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft throughout the year and because it’s forward vs. defenseman, it’s anyone’s guess who has the advantage. They are two very different players that will each bring something incredibly different to whatever team drafts them.
Jones has taken it all in stride, addressing the pressure of hype and being the son of a former pro athlete in this USA Hockey Magazine interview.
One reason to have faith that Jones will continue on this path to stardom is that he is a very mature player who is incredibly self aware. He knows his strengths and his limitations and likely doesn’t buy into all the praise that’s been thrown his way.
Danton Cole, Jones’ coach at the NTDP marveled at Jones’ ability to take the notes coaches give him and add more to his game. He also set a great example for teammates and served as the U.S. National Under-18 Team’s captain at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. It’d be easy for him to just be the superstar and go through the motions, but that’s not in Jones’ DNA.
Jones’ path to this decision of where to play next year will also be dissected and analyzed, but what most people will probably find is that the star defenseman went about this whole process “the right way.”
In this ever contentious battle between college hockey and the Canadian Hockey League, Jones handled himself extraordinarily well, never relenting to making a rash decision. Everything was thought out carefully.
Knowing that the WHL was a real option for him and knowing there was a good chance he’d end up in that league one day, Jones refrained from making a college commitment he wasn’t sure he could keep. Jones had a few schools on his short list, but even took the time to narrow down that list to get a more thorough look at North Dakota as a viable option.
Jones did his due diligence, physically visiting Everett, Portland and Grand Forks before making a final decision. He weighed all options, but did not wait until the last minute to make a call.
Having chosen Portland, a team that has been on a rapid rise to success and has been luring Americans to the WHL at an impressive rate, Jones is in a good spot. He would have been no matter where he decided to go.
It is likely it will be a short stay in Portland for Jones. With two years of strong development at the NTDP, Jones is not far from NHL ready. One scout told me at the U18s that he thought Jones could step into an NHL lineup “tomorrow,” saying that building more strength is the only real hurdle to immediate NHL success for the big defenseman.
For North Dakota, there may be some sour grapes among fans, but the coaching staff has to appreciate the way this was handled by Jones and his family. Everything has been above board from the beginning. With Jones’s decision going public today, North Dakota has plenty of time to make other plans, if they hadn’t already been prepared.
There is less outrage when a player has clearly analyzed every angle of his decision and made sure he did his due diligence. Too often players make early commitments, with the intention of keeping them, but life changes at a rapid pace for elite hockey players.
Having the patience and the maturity to make a difficult decision like this should be commended.
Every player is in a different situation, and Jones had the luxury of being one of the most sought after players in some time. He could have done anything. Perhaps the WHL always seemed like an obvious option, but even so, he kept his options open long enough to make sure.
Now that this step is out of the way, it’s time to simply kick back and watch. It should be an interesting debate for much of the year going between QMJHL forward MacKinnon, who some have dubbed the next Sidney Crosby, and WHL defenseman Jones. Either one would be a deserving No. 1 and we’re probably only a year away from seeing both in the NHL.
While college hockey fans will look at this as a loss and CHL fans a win, at the end of the day, it’s a kid making a decision that he feels puts him in the best position to reach his goals. You have to respect Jones for that, especially with the path he took to get there.