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Draft prospects Seth Jones, right, and Jonathan Drouin take in the view from the Empire State Building in New York this week. The NHL will hold its annual draft in Newark, N.J., on Sunday. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Draft prospects Seth Jones, right, and Jonathan Drouin take in the view from the Empire State Building in New York this week. The NHL will hold its annual draft in Newark, N.J., on Sunday. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

On eve of NHL draft, Seth Jones poised to take hockey to new heights Add to ...

A few years ago, when Anson Carter still played in the NHL, he approached a New York Times reporter with a polite but serious request. “Please ask your editors to stop referring to me as ‘African-American,’” Carter said.

Sure, but why? “Because I’m not African,” Carter said with a smile, “and I’m not American.” Carter is black and played for Michigan State, but grew up Canadian in the Toronto area.

“If they insist on giving you a racial, ethnic or national category,” Carter was asked, “what should it be?” Carter paused, nodded and smiled. “Coloured-Carribean-Canadian!” he declared.

Carter chuckled at that recollection this week while discussing Seth Jones, the biracial junior defenceman expected to be chosen early in the first round of the NHL entry draft Sunday in Newark, N.J.

Jones, the son of an African-American basketball player and a white mother, is likely to be the highest draft choice of African-American descent – perhaps first overall, if selected by the Colorado Avalanche (he grew up in Denver).

Fifty years ago, or even 25, it would have seemed far-fetched to imagine an African-American going that high in the hockey draft – as improbable, perhaps, as an African-American getting twice elected president of the United States.

But cultures evolve. Contemporary North American professional hockey – with English Canadians, French Canadians, Americans, Russians, Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks and many more – is the most ethnically diverse of the four major team sports. So is hockey ready for an African-American superstar? Carter is optimistic.

“Seth will take it to another level,” said Carter, an NBC Sports cable hockey host. “He’ll help open the eyes and help bring credibility and awareness to African-American athletes. When they see a player of their own that’s born and raised and trained Stateside, I think it’ll be a great thing.”

Jones said this week he will understand if the Avalanche do not select him first overall, even though Colorado’s executive vice-president, Joe Sakic, helped steer Jones to hockey.

When Sakic starred for the Avs, and Jones’s father, Popeye, played for the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, Popeye asked Sakic what to do because his sons liked hockey, which captivated Denver in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Sakic told Popeye to get them on skates as soon as possible. This, Popeye did. So it would seem to be kismet for Sakic’s Avs to draft Jones, a still growing 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-handed shooter who played last season for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League and for the United States’ championship team at the world junior tournament in Russia.

But Sakic said recently the Avs need young forwards more than defencemen. Jones said he has not talked with Sakic about it and appreciates his calculations.

“If they don’t pick me, I’m not going to take it personally,” Jones said. “I completely understand it. They have to do what’s best for their team.”

Jones was more expansive Friday at a press reception along the Hudson River, expressing surprise that Avs coach Patrick Roy spoke so openly about drafting centre Nathan MacKinnon of Halifax with the top pick.

“First time in a long time that probably anyone’s come out like that,” Jones said, adding that “it would have been a cool story for everyone” to have been drafted by his hometown team.

He said he saw the Avs clinch the 2001 Stanley Cup from a front-row seat his dad got for him. “That’s the moment that I wanted to be a hockey player,” Jones said, “and raise the Cup myself.”

At first Jones said he had no conversations with Colorado, then corrected himself by saying a member of the team’s management visited him and his parents in Texas last week for dinner. But neither Sakic nor Roy was there.

In that the Florida Panthers have the second pick, Jones will meet with them before the draft on Saturday, he said. “Obviously, I have a pretty good chance of playing there,” Jones said.

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