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Seth Jones becomes NHL’s top-ranked North American prospect

Jones has made strides as his season has unfolded with the Winterhawks (Getty Images)

HALIFAX — All we know is Seth Jones is No. 1, for today at least.

The 6-foot-3½, 205-pound defenceman from the Portland Winterhawks reflected as much on Monday, just hours prior to to NHL Central Scouting placing him first in its North American midterm rankings ahead of Halifax Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Jonathan Drouin. Jones, already 18, had a more successful world junior championship than the two 17-year-old Canadians, anchoring the blueline for victorious Team USA. But the Plano, Texas native, is carrying on like he doesn't have a laurel to rest upon.

"Just because my team won the gold medal, that doesn't mean I separated myself from the pack," he said on Monday. "I thought I played some pretty good hockey over there. I'm not going to quit working."

Jones added the world junior championship drilled home just how deep the 2013 draft, as reflected by how many of the top European skaters and top North American-based players played in the WJC. It reminded him he cannot cosat.

"There's so much talent throughout the world," he said. "That's what I took it out of it."

As far as Drouin, Jones and MacKinnon are concerned, the comparisons are apples and oranges since the trio play different positions. MacKinnon opened the season as the consensus top prospect in North America after a 79-point yearling season in the QMJHL. However, Drouin has had a huge breakout alongside MacKinnon in Halifax, posting 51 points and 26 games and sparking a conversation about who might be the bigger talent.

In Jones' case, he faced a learning curve early on this season in Portland after spending two seasons with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based U.S. national team development program. Once he navigated it, the doubts were dispersed.

"I knew coming from last year in the USHL that it would be a lot faster hockey and a lot physical and put a lot more stress on the body, especially with the [WHL's 72-game] schedule," Jones says. "It took me a little while to get used to that and get comfortable with myself and the way I play. Now, halfway through the season, I'm pretty comfortable with the way I'm playing and just hope to get better over the rest of the season."

Drouin and MacKinnon were the highest-ranked North American skaters from the 1995 age cohort. MacKinnon does not turn 18 until Sept. 1. Jones and the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-ranked skaters, Ottawa 67's centre Sean Monahan, Medicine Hat Tigers centre Hunter Shinkaruk and Brandon Wheat Kings offensive defenceman Ryan Pulock, are all late 1994 birthdates.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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