Seth Jones Ready for World Juniors Spotlight
By Christian Arnold (CA_NYHockey)
GREENBURGH, NY – When the 2013 World Junior Championships begins later this month, the eyes of the hockey world will be on 18-year old Seth Jones, a projected number one or two pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
“You obviously have it on your mind a little bit and you know scouts are going to be there watching,” Jones said during the US National Junior Team training camp. “But you’ve got to put all that stuff aside and just continue to play your game throughout the tournament and do your best to help the team win a gold medal.”
Jones, a product of the US Development Program and the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, has been having banner year for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Through 31 games this season, Jones has nearly a point per game.
Understandable there was some adjustments to be made once in major juniors. But it would seem he has moved past his initial nervousness.
“My first couple games it really took me a while to get comfortable with the speed of play and the type of play in the league,” Jones explained. “Right now I think I’m doing great. I’m very comfortable with the way I’m playing. My teammates have been great this year and they’ve really helped me get comfortable with the league and develop with the speed of play, so it’s been an unbelievable year.”
Standing at 6-foot-4, 205-pounds, Jones is a noticeable presence on the ice. But his size hasn’t limited him to being a threat just in the defensive end.
“He continues to be a dynamic player that happens to be 6-foot-4 and a defenseman that can do so much in the game,” said US General Manager Jim Johannson. “That’s rare. I think decision making continues to get better and better, not that it was poor before, but it seems like his game has matured as the competition matures for him.”
Johannson added that he feels that Jones has also grown into his body and that his leg strength continues to improve.
Fellow Defenseman, Jacob Trouba, is also a product of the USDP and has gotten to know Jones over the years and see how he’s developed.
“He’s really composed and he never ever panics and he’s just a good guy to have on the ice,” Trouba said of his teammate. “He’s always making smart plays and keeping it simple. He knows what he’s doing out there, so I mean he was great back then and I’m sure he’s only gotten better.”
Off the ice, Jones is just as skilled and composed, according to USA Head Coach Phil Housley. “I’m just really intrigued on the way he carries himself off the ice. He’s a very calming, settling factor and I think it rubs off on the rest of the guys.”
But the intrigue in Jones is not only for his on ice-skill and off-ice composer. He could become the first African-American player drafted number one overall in the NHL Draft. At the very least he could be the highest drafted African American player, a feat currently held by the Winnipeg Jets Evander Kane when he was selected fourth overall in 2009.
“It would mean a lot to me, but me and my family have never been into the race thing … whether your white or black it really doesn’t matter,” Jones later told NHL.com. “Going Number one is special. But I could see why that is a big deal around the world. It’s just that I never really thought about that kind of stuff.”
Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958 when he debuted for the Boston Bruins. Now 54 years later Jones has the chance to beak another barrier for African-American hockey players.
For now, Jones seems excited to get going with the World Juniors, especially since he missed last years due to a shoulder injury he suffered in a pre-tournament game.
“That obviously sucked last year,” Jones said bluntly. “… I’m very eager to play this year and I know we’re going to have a great year and it’s going to be better than last year, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
So how has Jones prepared himself for the spotlight he’s about to face when the tournament on December 27?
“I’ve talked to Jacob Trouba,” he explained. “I’ve played with him the past couple of years, and he’s been a great guy for me to talk to right now. He experienced all that stuff last year… He said there are a lot of people watching and you just gotta play your game.”
Johannson expressed confidence that the young star can handle the spotlight that comes with being a top prospect in the World Juniors. “He’s a well-rounded kid that has accepted everything that has come with it so far this year and done a great job,” he said.