Portland Winterhawks star defenceman Seth Jones (The Canadian Press)In short, it's likely that Seth Jones will make his NHL debut exactly where it all began. Seth Jones was five when his father Ronald "Popeye" Jones, then with the Denver Nuggets, was approached by Colorado Avalanche star Joe Sakic about starting off in ice hockey.
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.” [Vancouver Sun]
Sakic got the young Jones into hockey, and on Monday night, the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL Draft Lottery moving up from second spot to first. They'll have the right to take the first-time-eligible, and top-ranked prospect, Seth Jones on June 30 in New Jersey.
It's a natural fit for the Avalanche as well as Jones. While Jones was inspired to join hockey thanks to now VP of the Avalanche Sakic, their two on-ice styles couldn't be more different. Sakic's a high-scoring forward, but was never flashy beyond displaying one of the quickest releases in the game. Jones is more noticeable, more up-tempo, a high-scoring defenceman who doesn't mute his confidence in off-ice interviews.
Jones has even drawn the attention of rapper Jay-Z, who owned a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets before selling it to start up a sports agency. Jay-Z landed Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees last month in a major coup, and it's been reported that he has interest in Jones, who could become the first African American selected first overall.
Jones is currently still playing with the Portland Winterhawks and had to skip out on the IIHF U-18s last week as he and his teammates await the start of the WHL Championship Series against Calgary, which kick off against either Edmonton or Calgary once the Eastern Conference Finals finish. This is currently Jones' first playoff run—he was with the U.S. National Development Team in his first two years of major junior eligibility.
The Colorado Avalanche, who have three centremen on their NHL roster in Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny who are all under contract and relatively young, have every reason in the world to skip out on Halifax Mooseheads' Nathan MacKinnon and select Jones. Like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog who grew up as Avalanche fans idolizing Peter Forsberg, it wouldn't be the first time that the Avs select a CHL player that grew up watching the dynasty-era Avalanche. Defencemen are historically more difficult to project than forwards going forward, but Jones does make sense, given his ties to hockey in the area and Colorado's immediate need on the blue line.
Somewhat fittingly, the moment that attracted Jones to hockey was after the 1996 Stanley Cup final when Uwe Krupp scored the overtime winner in Game Four for the Avalanche, who swept the Florida Panthers:
Seth Jones said he was hooked on hockey the moment he watched the Avalanche raise the Stanley Cup as a kid. Fantastic story if he returns.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) April 30, 2013
The Panthers finished 30th out of 30 teams and were the odds-on favourite to win the Draft Lottery on Monday with a 25 per cent shot. Again, Jones watched the Avs deliver a blow to the Panthers.
But this may work out for Florida. The Panthers already have Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov who have made the jump to the NHL on the back-end. They're more bare up front, and a centreman like MacKinnon could provide a terrific complimentary piece for Jonathan Huberdeau, selected third overall by the Panthers in 2011.
The consensus is that there are several forwards ranked between No. 3 and No. 6 who could go high in the draft. That includes Jonathan Drouin of the Mooseheads, who is waiting to play in the QMJHL Championship series along with MacKinnon. Finnish national Aleksander Barkov and Swede Elias Lindholm both played in their respective pro leagues this season, and the wildcard is Valeri Nichushkin who still has two years left on his first KHL deal.