Winterhawks deal draft pick to Everett for player’s rights

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — The Portland Winterhawks are focused on their playoff series with the Tri-City Americans.

But on Monday the team made a move to maybe strengthen its future, acquiring the rights to 17-year-old defenseman Seth Jones from Everett in exchange for a conditional draft pick.

Considered a top prospect for the 2013 National Hockey League Draft, Jones was a key member of the U.S. National Development Team that on Sunday won the gold medal at the under-18 World Championships in the Czech Republic. He is 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, and the son of former NBA player Ronald “Popeye” Jones.

Portland Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said he hoped to speak with Jones on Monday or Tuesday to see if the defenseman has interest in playing for the Winterhawks. Johnston noted that Jones is one of the few members of the national under-18 team who has not yet committed to a college.

If Jones chooses the Winterhawks over college hockey, he likely would play for Portland as an 18-year-old next season. Portland will send a bantam draft pick to Everett if Jones signs with the Winterhawks.

“It works sometimes. It doesn’t work others,” Johnston said of efforts to recruit players who were not willing to sign with a different WHL team. “We’ll know in the next couple of weeks” if Jones has interest in the Winterhawks.

Johnston said that the Winterhawks are willing to make similar trades if players on their protected list are not interested in signing with Portland but might be interested in playing for a different WHL team.

“We want the best players in the world playing in the Western Hockey League,” Johnston said.

That would seem to describe Jones.

During the world under-18 tournament that concluded on Sunday, the Plano, Texas native had three goals and five assists in six games. He played in the same tournament as a 16-year-old in 2011.

“Seth is a world-class player in his age group, a terrific two-way defenseman who’s excelled at every level,” Johnston said.

The current Winterhawks are striving to become the class of the WHL in 2012. After winning the first two games of the Western Conference finals, both 5-4 in overtime, the Winterhawks are preparing for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday in the Rose Garden. A win in this best-of-7 series would send the Winterhawks to their second consecutive Western Hockey League championship series.

Portland led its previous series 4-3 after leading Kamloops 3-0, so the Winterhawks are not getting ahead of themselves despite three emotional wins in a row beginning with last Wednesday’s Game 7 against Kamloops.

“The biggest thing is you can’t get too high or too low,” said Ty Rattie, who had the tying and winning goals in Game 2 on Saturday. “Everybody’s upbeat. All the boys are excited, and we’re a real confident team right now.”