Be sure to catch parts 1 and 2 in this ongoing series on Seth Jones from Jason Clinkscales and myself.
In part 1 of “The Seth Jones Draft,” I erroneously asserted that Jones will become the first African American selected first overall into the NHL. He may not be. In the following days after I hit publish, it came to my attention that the brass in Colorado, namely new Vice President of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic, indicated that the organization was leaning towards drafting one of the top forwards instead of the defenseman Jones.
My bad. TSN's top-rated skater Nathan MacKinnon is considered a can't-miss prospect and Jonathan Drouin, number three on the same list behind Jones, can do stuff like this.
This isn't really about who would be the best pick of the three, though. For the record, I find it hard to believe that a team that already possesses three of the best young forwards in the game in Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan O'Reilly would pass up on the best defensive prospect to enter the draft in years in Jones.
I could tell you that at his size - 6'4” 206 pounds - he skates with more fluidity than any defenseman in the league. I could tell you that his mobility allows Jones to recover from the rare mistakes he does make as a result of his aggressive style of play. I could tell you that he both joins and snuffs out odd man rushes with equal abandon.
I could also tell you about his accomplishments, how he led two under-18 US teams to World Championships in 2011 and 2012, and how he dominated the 2013 World Junior Championships, including a 5-1 demolition of a MacKinnon and Drouin-led Canada in the Semifinals, in route to the United States' third-ever gold medal in the tournament. I could tell you that in his rookie year with the Portland Winterhawks of Canada's Western Hockey League, Jones compiled 56 points in only 61 games and led the team to the league title.
But none of that really matters. If this were a series based on Seth Jones the prospect, I might delve further into his merits as an NHL defenseman. You, being the casual fan, don't care about that. This is about Seth Jones, the son of Popeye Jones former NBA standout, the best African-American NHL prospect in history. With all due respect, few draftees would produce 1000 words on this site, let alone the 2400+ that Jason and I will have dedicated to Jones.
He has a chance to galvanize the growing black hockey community that exists both in the NHL and in the youth ranks of North America. With early success, Jones will ease the sport into the aggrandizing world of pop culture and social media. At 18, he is already seen as an iconoclast, which is where things get complicated.
The casual fan cares not about how good Jones is or how good he will be, only that he is good. When they flip on the NBC Sports Network in October to catch the wunderkind's debut, they expect to see stardom. However, hockey is not basketball. There is a steep learning curve with young players, and an even steeper one for young defensemen. If Jones completes the season with 30 points and plays upwards of 20 minutes per game, that will be considered a successful, if not exceptional, rookie campaign. There's no immediate star quality about that, though. And so the masses unfamiliar to the intricacies of the game might consider Jones a disappointment.
The NHL, for the most part, has failed to market its black stars well. Jarome Iginla captained the Calgary Flames to the brink of the Stanley Cup in 2004 and has put together a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, but has barely made a dent in the sporting public. As Jason pointed out, PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens became the first skater of African descent to win a major individual award when he took home the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman this year. The news barely made the ticker on the bottom line.
Jones, on the other hand, has transcended the league without the aid of shameless promotion. Sports Illustrated has published articles on him, as has ESPN the Magazine. Jones has appeared with his father on the well-regarded program E:60.
At the very least, he has inadvertently, as demonstrated here, started the conversations that may break down stereotypes and remove hypocrisies from the sport. The children of Popeye's fans might catch a glimpse of a streaking Jones joining a three on two in a playoff game, and they'll fall in love with the game the same way Seth did all those years ago in wintry Colorado. The father may balk at the $800 price tag on the skates that have rendered hockey a rich man's game, but perhaps he'll gladly purchase the $20 wooden stick that sits unwanted on the rack. In small (but growing) pockets across the urban United States, street hockey may compete with street ball, if only on the most miniscule of levels.
It's a bit unfair to put that much on Jones. It deserves reiteration that he is only 18, but Sunday marks a momentous occasion whether he hears his name first, third, or fifth. He will play in the NHL, and he will surely play well. Everything else is gravy.
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