The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones is ranked as the No. 1 North American skater in the NHL's final pre-draft rankings, beating out Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon for the top spot.
Jones is a generational talent and the type of defenseman that teams build a blue line around for many years of playoff success.
When you look at the four conference finalists from this shortened 2013 season—the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks—each of these teams has a No. 1 defenseman to anchor the blue line.
Due to the physical nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, having a top blueliner gives teams a tremendous advantage over opponents who lack this type of player. Jones has the talent, hockey IQ and work ethic required to become an elite defenseman.
Let's take a further look into his abilities and what makes him the best prospect of the 2013 draft class.
Place of Birth: Arlington, Texas
Height/Weight: 6'4" and 205 pounds
Jones is a smooth-skating defenseman who has impressive speed, quickness and the ability to skate his way out of trouble.
His high hockey IQ helps him decide when it's a good idea to join the play and when it's best to hold a responsible defensive position. This is the kind of intelligence that gives coaches the confidence to give rookie defensemen a lot of minutes and trust them to make good decisions.
As a defenseman at the point, Jones walks the blue line very well to open up shooting lanes and look for teammates with his fantastic vision and passing skills.
When given an opportunity to shoot, Jones rarely hesitates. His point shot is powerful and quite accurate (his one-timer is also remarkable), which makes him a valuable addition to the power play. It wouldn't be surprising if he finished among the leaders in goals by defensemen throughout his NHL career.
In his own end, Jones moves the puck swiftly and effectively to start the breakout and limit the effectiveness of the oncoming forecheck. He's willing to take a hit to make an important pass and rarely makes horrible decisions in the defensive zone that result in high-quality scoring chances for the opposing team.
In his first season of WHL play for the Portland Winterhawks, he tallied 56 points (14 goals and 42 assists, good for fourth in scoring among WHL defensemen) in 61 games with a plus/minus of plus-46.
Jones has the talent needed to provide consistent scoring from the blue line as an NHL rookie. As he further develops, he could become a top-tier offensive defenseman in two or three years.
Jones is not an elite defensive player yet, but he could be in the near future.
He has the size and strength to be an intimidating defenseman who wins puck battles, blocks shots and impacts games with a physical style of play.
He understands when to go for the big hit and when to keep his position. Jones could play with more aggression, but his ability to play a physical game and avoid dumb penalties is impressive for a defenseman his age.
Jones also uses his long reach to his advantage by breaking up passes with effective poke checks to force turnovers. His recovery speed is also excellent, and unlike most defensemen his size, quick forwards are not able to easily beat him to the outside.
He's capable of logging 20-plus minutes against the best forwards on the opposing team each night at the junior level, and it shouldn't take him too long (two to four years) to become this kind of player in the NHL.
Jones' ceiling is Chris Pronger, who is a future Hall of Famer and the most recent defenseman to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP (2000).
The 18-year-old doesn't have the same mean streak of a player such as Pronger, but that's an attribute that can be learned and developed over the years. However, Jones does have comparable size, intelligence and offensive ability (potential to tally 40-60 points consistently).
Jones is ready to contribute at the NHL level this fall, but the best decision for his development would be to play a second season in Portland before making the jump to the pros.
Defensemen normally take longer to develop than forwards, and asking a young player who was taken high in the first round to play a significant role that includes special teams play is too much to ask a rookie to handle.
In order to sell tickets and instantly improve on-ice performance, the team lucky enough to draft Jones may feel the pressure to play him in the NHL right away, but that would be a risky decision.
Since 1983, five defensemen have been taken No. 1 overall (only one since 1997), and none of them became the superstars they were expected to become.
With that said, Jones has more talent and potential than those players. The chances of him failing to become an NHL star are slim.
Whichever team drafts him on Sunday will be adding a rock-solid defenseman with a two-way game to its roster.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Follow Nick on Twitter for live updates from the 2013 NHL draft on June 30.
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