Jones ready for possible No. 1 pick |

Jones ready for possible No. 1 pick

Edmonton Oil Kings Curtis Lazar,front, hip checks Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones (3) into the boards in the first period of the Western Conference Finals against Kamloops in Portland, Ore., Saturday April 20, 2013. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Doug Beghtel)
AP | The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. — Seth Jones knows his story is irresistible to media who like things in neat little boxes. And the boxes in his story come gift-wrapped.

• Jones is the son of a former NBA player and could become the first pick in the NHL draft — the first African-American to go No. 1 in hockey.

• He learned to skate because of a tip from an Avalanche Hall of Famer to his father, a Nuggets player seeking help.

• Now the young man may help rescue an Avalanche franchise led in part by that Hall of Famer — Joe Sakic, who could use some help of his own.

This must be why some sportswriters in North America have started to call Portland a second home in recent weeks. Who can resist the story of Seth Jones?

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“Yeah, it is. I agree,” Jones said, when reminded of the uniqueness of his story line. “I don’t blame them. I’d do the same thing if I was in media.”

Jones has one favor to ask all of the would-be inquisitors who figure to approach him in the coming weeks: “You might be able to find my basics on the Internet now, instead of coming to me about it.”

The 18-year-old son of Brooklyn Nets assistant coach and former Nuggets forward Ronald “Popeye” Jones and mother Amy gives a “yeah, right” chuckle and eye roll at that prospect. Hard-core hockey people know who he is, but Seth Jones knows a new spectrum of people may soon want to know more about his background.

Jones, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound defenseman with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, is the consensus No. 1-rated player eligible for the NHL draft June 30 in Newark, N.J. The Avalanche owns the first pick, and a host of people from the organization were on hand over the weekend to see Jones play at the Rose Garden for Games 1 and 2 of the WHL Finals against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Avalanche chief scout Rick Pracey, who will have the final say on the team’s top pick, attended the games. Pracey gave a wry smile when asked if Jones will be the no-brainer pick of the Avs.

“He’s certainly a player we’ll be considering,” Pracey said, with something of a cat-that-ate-the-canary look.

Jones gave the scouts more to drool about over the weekend, including his play in Portland’s series-tying 3-0 victory over the usually explosive Oil Kings in Game 2 on Saturday.

The Winterhawks outshot the Oil Kings 36-16, and Jones stood sentry over the Portland back end, dispersing opposing offensive schemes with the efficiency of a bouncer breaking up petty disturbances inside a nightclub. Though he didn’t get his name on the scorer’s sheet in either of the first two games, Jones had the puck on his stick plenty at the offensive end and efficiently moved it around to teammates when he wasn’t blasting a few on net himself.

Fine skating skills matter

The fact Jones learned to skate at age 5, from a figure skating coach in Denver named Tracy Jackson, seems easy to discern after the first couple of looks at Jones on the ice. His skating, scouts say, is what sets him apart from others in his age group.

Jones moves with equal ease and agility skating backward and forward, crisscrossing his feet like that of a figure skater when backing up on plays, yet almost always keeping the puck in front of him. Then, add in his size and strength. Then, add in his hockey sense. Finally, you have, as his former U.S. world junior team coach Phil Housley called him after Jones captained the team to a gold medal, a “complete-package defenseman.”

Jones makes it look so easy.

on the ice, there already is something of a recurring theme among those grasping to poke a few holes in his growing legend. He’s not intense enough, some say, not mean and physical enough, given his size, to play defense at the next level against grown men.

More to it than being physical

Winterhawks coach Travis Green, a 14-season NHL veteran, bats a dismissive hand through the air over such criticism.

“He competes real hard,” Green said. “He doesn’t have to be real physical right now in our league. Can he be? Yeah. I mean, I think he’s probably going to have to add a little bit of that element, but you look at most of the top D, they’re not bone-crushing defensemen. If you’re looking for a 4, 5 or 6 defenseman, then I guess that’s what you want. But if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to play 30 minutes and run your power play and play your penalty kill, then I think you might want a guy like Seth.”

When the final pingpong ball came up last week to clinch the top draft pick for the Avs, Jones admits the city in which he once lived crossed his mind a few times.

“As an 18-year-old, obviously you’ve got to think about your future and where you’re going to be for a long time,” Jones said. “I still have a lot of good friends in Denver that I’ve had my entire life. I’m very familiar with the city, and should I get drafted there I’d be very happy to go back there.”

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