Seth Jones hasn’t played a game yet for the Chicago Blackhawks, but he is immediately penciled into the depth chart at the top. However, it’s not about where he ranks in the organization, but how he fares compared to the rest of the NHL.
Before the start of the first night of the 2021 NHL Draft, the star defenseman was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Blackhawks for young offensive blueliner Adam Boqvist, a pair of first-round picks and a 2021 second-round pick. This was the most important acquisition for Chicago during their busy offseason, even more imperative than adding a Vezina Trophy winner in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and a recent Stanley Cup champion in forward Tyler Johnson.
Why? The defensive corps of the Blackhawks were short-stocked a few months ago when they lost veteran blueliners and established leaders in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, which will now be filled with a younger core. Here’s a quick look at the depth chart with how it stands now.
- Seth Jones
- Connor Murphy
- Jake McCabe
- Calvin de Haan
- Ian Mitchell
- Caleb Jones
- Riley Stillman
- Wyatt Kalynuk
Giving up a blue-chip prospect in Adam Boqvist along with two high first-round picks was quite the price to pay, but Jones is worth that extra cost when in the 2022-23 season, his cap hit extends to $9.5 million. He’ll be wearing the red and black for the next eight years, so Chicago is relying on Jones to be his future in transforming into a true No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, and he can.
Comparing Columbus to Chicago
When Jones was with the Blue Jackets, he split time as the main guy alongside Zach Werenski. Here’s a photo of them together dressed respectively in their uniforms at the NHL Media Tour in Chicago.
With Columbus over six seasons, Jones averaged over 24 minutes of ice time while Werenski has matched his heavy line of duty at 22:43 over his first five seasons in the league.
Taking a glance at last season alone, Jones finished with a total of 25:14 ATOI in 56 games. Werenski, who was hurt for a part of the year, wrapped up the next closest at 24:22 ATOI in 35 games. No other defenseman on Columbus’ roster finished with more than 20 minutes.
Looking at Chicago’s defense, the lone defenseman on the current roster who skated over 20 minutes a night last season was Connor Murphy, who is still proving himself to be a quality top-four defenseman in the league. What this means is there will most likely be more opportunities for Jones to take extended shifts against teams’ top lines and during special teams.
Jones only registered 28 points in 56 games last season, including eight power-play points, but the numbers don’t tell the whole picture from his time when he called Nationwide Arena home. The Blue Jackets carried a young, depleted offense and a lack of structure and communication in the coaching staff, which ultimately toiled with their team’s leadership from top to bottom.
Just imagine the potential of Jones inserted as the top quarterback for a power-play unit that features Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. There is also a chance Jones takes more than one shift as the big utility option for the secondary group, which would project Jones to accumulate more power-play points than he has ever collected in a single season (24). He is an incredibly valuable asset on the power play thanks to his mobility, puck-handling and a very dangerous slap shot.
Furthermore, Jones will immediately make an impact for the penalty kill and overall team defense that finished in the bottom third of the league with a 3.22 goals against average. His high hockey IQ and enormous range and frame with a 6-foot-4 figure grants Jones with an impressive wingspan and ability to get more pucks out of harm’s way in the neutral and defensive zones.
Jones vs. The Rest of The League’s Top Defenders
When Jones’ new contract kicks in the following season, Jones will become the third-highest paid defenseman in the NHL behind San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson at $11.5 million and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty at $11 million, so Jones should play like he is a top-10 defenseman among the league’s best.
He has the numbers to prove it. Jones finished top 10 among defensemen last season in average time on ice and shots on goal. Taking it one step further, in his best season, 2017-18, he secured 9.9 point shares, according to Hockey Reference, which ranked sixth among defensemen that season. Point shares are an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player. In this case, Jones contributed nearly 10 points during his third season with Columbus.
With an even more capable offense in front of him, Jones’ offensive numbers are bound to increase as well, given he will be playing almost 25 minutes a night for the Blackhawks. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen says the move to the Windy City will “re-energize” Jones, despite finishing a down year last season with Columbus.
Sure, he is no Victor Hedman or John Carlson, but the 26-year-old defenseman has a lot to show for himself and pressure defines character in the league. He’s still in his prime and with his brother Caleb Jones on his side for the first time in their respective professional careers, it might add a little extra motivation for him to kick things into a higher gear.
Michael Gutnick is a recent sports journalism graduate from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Michael covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers.