Monday, September 26, 2011

Player Profile: Seth Jones

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Today's player profile is on a key player eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft. Seth Jones is a defenceman playing with the US-NTDP U18 squad but his CHL rights are held by the Everett Silvertips in the WHL. Where he plays in the future is unknown but we do have the piece below, a bit dated but it has some nice background on the highly touted blueliner. This profile is written by Joe DeClara...

Like Father, Like Son. Sort Of.

There are many sons who have followed in their father’s footsteps in the world of professional sports — Ken Griffey Jr., Brett Hull, Moises Alou, and Barry Bonds to name a few — but it’s not often we see the son of a professional athlete succeed in an entirely different sport. Seth Jones, the off-spring of former NBAer Popeye Jones, is looking to make it to the NHL, and while the basketball family may not have started out living at rinks, they’re all hockey fans now.

“Basketball and hockey don’t go together,” says Jones, “but I watched him [Popeye Jones] play and learned what to do or not to do in the life of an athlete. I learned what the good and bad decisions are, and I saw what you have to go through and sacrifice in order to make it.”

The support is there from both Jones’ parents. “Totally supportive,” he explains. “He’s [Popeye] got no problem with hockey. He loves it too, told me to keep my head on straight. My mom plays a part of it too, telling me what I have to do, what he as an athlete did right, how to behave with added pressure on you. She played a huge role, a bigger role than what people would expect.”

At 6’4, 180 lbs, the 16-year-old (now 17) defenseman has the build of an up-and-coming power forward ready to do what it takes to get drafted into the NBA, but instead his mind is on moving the puck out of the defensive zone with accurate and effective first passes. Like many young defensemen, Jones models his game after one of the NHL’s best: “Nicklas Lidstrom,” he says. “[He’s got the]mental part of the game. First pass out of the zone is great. He always makes the smart play and never turns the puck over. I’ve modeled my game after that.”

There is the obvious question of how the son of an NBA journeyman ends up a top hockey prospect. Popeye Jones only played one season for the Denver Nuggets, in 1999-00, but Seth stayed in Denver for seven more years before moving back to Texas, where he was born. It was the Colorado Avalanche that first drew his eye to hockey and attending a 2001 Stanley Cup Final game in the Mile-High City was the icing on the cake.“Lots of my friends in school played hockey,” says Jones, “so at age 5 or 6 age I started playing, taking some skating lessons, and fell in love with it from there.”

Last season Jones played in 28 games for the U.S. National Development Team, recording 13 assists and 14 points. The USNTDP is an organization that prides itself on player development for success in both the NHL and future U.S. National teams. In the 12 years that they have existed, 181 of its players have been drafted into the NHL. In 2009-10, 45 NHLers could say they took part in the program. As Jones puts it, the time he spent with the team was “wonderful.”

Wonderful, perhaps, but also a gruelling ordeal. “Spend a lot of time in the weight room, three or four lifts a week, practice every day except for Sunday. It’s tough bussing to USHL arenas, tough schedule at a young age, but good for the future, prepares you for the future.”

It certainly is a bright future that Jones has in front of him, and while 180lbs is big for a 16-year-old, to be an NHL defenseman means hard work in the weight room and on the ice. His skating is already impressive for a player of his age and size, and he has the ability to make those essential passes out of the defensive zone to create offense.

With his game progressing at a rapid rate, Jones has an important decision to make next season: will he play major junior hockey in Canada or will he move to the college ranks. Jones outstanding play as a member of the Dallas Stars Selects program and his incredible upside were good enough for The Dub’s Everett Silvertips to use the 11th overall pick at the 2009 WHL Bantam draft on the blue-chipper. Both the WHL and the NCAA will give him the opportunity to advance his game, but he can only pick one. “[It] keeps me awake at night, honestly couldn’t tell you,” says Jones as he mulls the options over. “Both are great ways to get where I want to be.”

Whichever path he chooses, by the time the 2013 draft comes around, Jones is looking to be a much sought after prospect. He knows that to make that happen he needs to get bigger and stronger. Considering he still has a couple more years of growth left, that shouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps the biggest challenge he’ll face in the upcoming years will be becoming the most famous professional athlete in the family—but no doubt Popeye’s ready to share some spinach with his son. - Joe DeClara

(Photo: Matt Bmurnaghan / USA Hockey, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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