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Jones 'makes some things look easy'


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by: BRYAN HEIM - Seth Jones will be one of the top picks in next year's NHL draft. But for now the Portland Winterhawks defenseman is starring as a rookie in the Western Hockey League.During their 36-year run, the Portland Winterhawks have had a number of defensemen go on to make their mark in the National Hockey League. Larry Playfair, David Babych, Jim Benning, Gary Nylund, Andrew Ference and Braydon Coburn come to mind.

Seth Jones comes to Portland more decorated than any of the aforementioned. And his stopover in the City of Roses is very likely to be shorter than any of theirs — one season.

The 6-4, 210-pound Jones, who turned 18 on Oct. 3, was captain on the U.S. National Team Developmental Program’s Under-18 team a year ago and won a gold medal with the U.S. at the U-18 World Championships in the Czech Republic.

Jones — son of former NBA forward Popeye Jones, now an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets — could be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL draft.

“Most (pundits) are saying top three or top five,” says Mike Johnston, Portland’s general manager and coach. “But he is going to be a first-round pick for sure.”

The Winterhawks were lucky enough to land Jones in a trade last May with Everett in which they sent four players to the Silvertips, who owned Jones’ rights through the bantam draft. Jones wasn’t interested in signing with the lowly Silvertips — college hockey was his other option — but was intrigued with the idea of playing for a strong franchise in Portland.

In April, the Hawks acquired the rights to negotiate with Jones. After a visit to Portland, Seth gave his blessing for the Hawks to complete the deal.

I got my first look at Jones during Portland’s 6-0 Western Hockey League beat-down of Tri-City Sunday night at Memorial Coliseum. Seems to me that the Hawks made a wise investment.

Jones is big and strong and blessed with plenty of ice savvy. He can carry the puck and patrol the blue line with authority. Late in the first period, after a set-up from teammate Taylor Leier, Jones launched a screamer slap shot from near the blue line that nearly tore through the back of the Americans’ net.

“It was a great pass by ‘Leiersee,’ right in my wheelhouse,” Jones told me. “I was able to get it off past the defender, and it ended up going in.”

Wouldn’t surprise me if Jones — who had three goals in Portland’s first dozen games — scores 20 goals during the regular season for a Hawk team that could be a little offensively challenged. The only thing that might stop him is he will miss seven or eight games while playing for the U.S. in the World Junior Championships at Russia around Christmas.

But Jones’ biggest value to this Portland team, even one rich in veteran defensemen, will be his presence. He’s a kid who knows how to play and knows how to win.

“Jones has been really solid,” Johnston says. “A lot of times he is undervalued, because he can make some things look easy. I like that in his game.

“He goes back for pucks, he has great reads, he’s a very intelligent player. That’s what’s going to separate him from other players in this year’s draft.”

Jones seems to have adjusted well to the city of Portland and his new team.

“It’s been awesome so far,” he says. “The guys have made me feel part of the team. We’ve had a pretty good start of the season. It’s been fun.”

Jones has bonded with the Hawks’ highest-profile player, right wing Ty Rattie. They are living together with the same billet.

“What a player,” Rattie says, “and he’s just as good a guy off the ice. We’ve really hit it off. It’s a good friendship, for sure.

“The kid is going to go far in life. He knows it, but he doesn’t show it. That’s the best thing about him.”

“I like Ty,” Jones says. “He’s a great guy and a great player with a personality to go with it.”

Rattie and Jones kill time by watching reality shows on TV.

“ ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ we like that a lot,” Rattie says. “ ‘Jersey Shore.’ We spend hours just sitting there watching those.”

“ ‘Modern Family,’ too,” Jones says. “We’re spending some time together, so it’s cool.”

On the ice, Jones didn’t take long to impress his teammates.

“Not just us,” Rattie says. “Everyone around the league has taken notice.

“Seth never makes a mistake. He’s a guy you love to be with on the ice, but don’t want to play against. He is always going to make the right play. He is good defensively and has a real good shot from the point. He’s an all-around player.”

What does Jones consider his best hockey skill?

“My decision-making with the puck,” he says. “I try to excel in that. I try to be perfect. I know I’m not going to be, but that’s what I try to be. I like to pride myself in my skating, too.”

Jones will be a key piece to a Portland team that has firmly set the Memorial Cup as its goal after falling one step short in each of the last two seasons — losing in the WHL finals.

“We have a lot of new guys,” Jones says. “We’re the second-youngest team in the league. But we have a great team. We look pretty good so far. Hopefully we can keep it up the rest of the season.”

By then, Seth “Iceman” Jones might be a household sports name in our fair city.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers