VANCOUVER - In some small way, Portland Winterhawks defenceman and elite NHL draft prospect Seth Jones owes a debt of gratitude to Joe Sakic, first for turning him on to the sport of hockey and then for the advice Burnaby Joe gave his dad.
Young Seth was five and living in Denver when poppa Popeye Jones was a power forward with the NBA Nuggets. Popeye would take Seth and his brothers to the occasional Avalanche game – the Avs were in their glory days circa 1999-2001 – and Seth became intoxicated with the speed and power of NHL hockey.
“It was just the intensity,” he said Wednesday from Portland as the Winterhawks prepared for their Friday date in Vancouver against the Giants. “We lived in Colorado for eight years so I went to a bunch of Avalanche games and I was there in 2001 when they beat New Jersey to win the Stanley Cup. We had rinkside seats and I saw them hoist the Cup and that game made me want to pursue my dream of hoisting a Stanley Cup one day. That's kind of where my motivation started.”
Sakic, of course, was captain of those remarkabke Avalanche teams that also featured the likes of Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy. When young Seth told his parents he wanted to try hockey, Popeye tracked down Burnaby Joe and asked him where they should start. Sakic said start with skating lessons.
“I wasn't there when that happened and my dad told me about it later,” said Seth. “I don't remember ever meeting Joe Sakic myself, or any of those Avalanche players. I was pretty young back then. Anyway, my mom and dad put me into skating lessons after that. I started hockey a year later, when I was six.”
Now Seth Jones is 18 and a consensus high first-round pick for the 2013 NHL entry draft. Scouts are already suggesting he could go No. 1 or No. 2 overall, his main competition coming from Halifax Mooseheads forward Nathan MacKinnon. Seth Jones is listed at 6-4 and 206. (Dad Popeye, now an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets, is 6-8 and played at 250.)
“Obviously I'm very excited for the draft and what that might bring for me next June,” said Seth, who shoots right. “Right now, I'm trying to put away all the media attention and this horse race between me and Nate. We might meet in the world juniors and that would be pretty cool. Anytime you can get a chance to play against the best players in the world, it's an awesome experience. I wish the best for Nate and I hope he makes the Canadian team. I hope I make the team here, too.”
Jones is certainly no mystery to USA Hockey. He spent two years in their national development program and captained their under-18 world championship squad last season. He's off to a pretty good start with the soaring Winterhawks this season, his first in the WHL, and has 12 points and a plus-10 rating in 16 games.
Portland has won nine straight while outscoring its opponents by a whopping 49-13 margin. Overall, the Winterhawks have scored 71 goals and conceded 34. Their 13-3-1-0 record is second best in the Western Conference behind only the Kamloops Blazers.
Portland general manager-coach Mike Johnston, the former Vancouver Canuck assistant, indicated that Jones has played a large part in the team's early success.
“I think the key part of what we've done both defensively and offensively is coming from our back end and Seth has been a part of that along with Troy Rutkowski, Derrick Pouliot and Tyler Wotherspoon,” Johnston said. “Seth has a very mature attitude. He's calm and poised in games and doesn't get rattled. You can tell he's grown up in a professional environment.
“He's big and rangy and is a bit like Tyler Myers,” added Johnston. “Seth is maybe a little more evasive in his own end than Myers but, like Myers, he moves the puck quickly and can jump up ice and into the play. You don't often see big guys who are really that mobile. And he's a smart player, too.”
Seth Jones might not be unique either. His younger brother Caleb, also a defenceman, was a 2012 second-round bantam pick by the Winterhawks. Caleb is 6-0 but only 15 and still growing.
“He's looks a lot like Seth did at that age, kind of gangly a little bit,” Johnston said. “He's a very smart player but, like all those guys born in 1997, he's kind of raw and just developing.”
The puck drops at 7:30 Friday when the Winterhawks and Giants meet at Pacific Coliseum.
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