As far as athletes go, Seth Jones is quite a unique specimen.
- Selected fourth overall this year by the Nashville Predators, the 6′ 4” defenseman owns the title as the highest-drafted African-American in NHL history. While there have been a considerable number of African-Canadian NHLers — Jarome Iginla, P.K Subban and Evander Kane, to name a few — Jones is one of very few black players to emerge from the U.S.
- Raised by a father who played in the NBA, Seth went against the grain, choosing skates, sticks and pucks over sneakers, hoops and basketballs.
- With a skill set unrivaled by any draftee in recent years, Seth has sky-high potential, leading scouts to compare him to the likes of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Rob Blake.
But perhaps the most unique element of Seth Jones the Athlete is where he came from. Born in Plano, TX, he spent the majority of his development as a hockey player in an unusual place: the Lone Star State.
Not exactly a hockey hotbed, Texas isn’t known for churning out top-tier NHL talent. But when the Stars franchise sojourned from the frozen lakes of Minnesota to the scorching heat of the Southwest, youth hockey began to grow in Dallas.
By building rinks in the area and creating an impressive local hockey scene, Dallas was able to keep the Jones family around after they realized Seth had a shot of becoming something special.
“To be honest, yes I was worried about hockey in Texas … but it worked out for a couple of reasons,” Seth’s mother, Amy, said. “One, the youth hockey is great here, and they do an excellent job coaching. Two, Seth decided to play on a team with boys his own age, and that actually was a turning point for him. That’s where I think he finally decided he could be a leader.”
However, Seth didn’t play with boys his own age for long. He jumped from the U14 team in 2008-09 to U18′s in 2009-10, and made the transition without any hiccups.
“We were a bit apprehensive to bring Seth to the U18 level at such a young age, but he was so smart, and he was already 6′ 4”,” said Adam Robbins, the head coach of the Stars Junior Elite U18 squad. “He’s such a smart player, and he had no problem playing with older kids. The jump in competition would have been too much for most players, but he was fine and got better and better as the year went on.”
During his time with the USNTDP, Jones won three gold medals: two with the U18′s and one with the U20′s. His performance in the U20 World Juniors was particularly impressive, as he registered seven points (1G, 6A) in seven contests en route to a championship.
Those of us who have covered Jones in his short time with the Preds organization have noticed the mature way in which he carries himself off the ice. Robbins saw this as well while coaching the budding D-man several years ago.
“Right of the bat his mannerisms made a huge impression on me,” said Robbins. “He was not fazed by anything, and he always knew ‘you are who you are’ regardless of what profession you’re in.
“He’s humble, a good kid and mature beyond his years.”
Robbins says Jones’ parents, especially his father, deserve credit for turning Seth into such a polished young man.
“His mother and father have both collectively taught him how to carry himself, especially amongst his peers,” Robbins said. “The way he acted amongst his teammates really made an impression on our staff, and you could tell that Popeye had a big influence on that.”
When asked to recall any memories of his time coaching Jones, Robbins said one story in particular stood out:
He broke his foot with us at the end of January, and he was out a month and a half. He hadn’t skated, and walked around in a boot for the whole time he was hurt. His first game back was our first game of regionals, our big tournament. He stepped on the ice without practicing beforehand and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He was immediately the best defenseman on the ice. It doesn’t matter what level you’re playing, being able to recover the way he did is special. When we saw that we realized, ‘Wow. He really is that good.’
Robbins stated that it’s tough to pinpoint specific highlights of Jones’ time with the Stars Junior Elite program, but that his consistent, elite defensive work was what made him such a valuable commodity.
“It was more collectively what he did, not any one moment,” the coach said. “The way he used his body, his energy, his vision — he just made things look easy all the time, and we knew he would bring that skill to the ice every single game.”
Many scouts, executives and coaches believe Jones will be able to succeed in the NHL this season, and Robbins echoed this sentiment. As one of Seth’s mentors, the veteran bench boss has simple advice for his former pupil as he embarks on a professional career:
“Always listen to those around you, and enjoy every moment of it.”
Image Courtesy of TheHockeyGuys.net