With the 2021-22 NHL season just around the corner, now is the best time to take a look at the newest members of the Chicago Blackhawks roster. General manager Stan Bowman was very busy this offseason, quickly going from rebuild mode into trying to get this team back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as soon as possible.
We will kick off our “Meet the New Blackhawks” series with the biggest fish Bowman caught over the summer; defenseman Seth Jones. On July 23, the Blackhawks paid a hefty price to acquire his services by sending Adam Boqvist, two first-round draft picks, and a second-round choice to the Columbus Blue Jackets. If Jones becomes the elite No. 1 defenseman Bowman envisions, then the cost will be justified.
From Nashville to Columbus
Jones’ professional career began at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft when he was selected fourth overall by the Nashville Predators behind Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, and Jonathan Drouin. On Oct 3, 2013, he made his NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues and became a fixture in the Predators’ lineup. After 15 goals and 63 points in 199 games, Nashville traded the young blueliner to the Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen on Jan 6, 2016.
It was in Columbus where Jones began to reach his potential and become a household name. He took a big step during the 2017-18 season when he set career-highs with 16 goals, 41 assists, and 57 points. He also had a 55.2 Corsi for percentage (CF%), the second-best mark of his career. He averaged over 24 minutes a game for the first time in his career. Since then, he’s averaged well over 25 minutes per game.
“Jones is the kind of player who can take over a game on his own,” our own Mark Scheig told me, who is entering his eighth season covering the Blue Jackets for The Hockey Writers. “He can play 30 minutes while being a threat at both ends of the ice.”
Since 2017-18, Jones’ numbers have taken a dip. He scored five goals and 28 points in 56 games last season. However, he had a minus-18 rating, the lowest since his rookie season, and a career-low 48.2 CF%. In his defense, the entire Blue Jackets team took a significant step backward last season, and his struggles were part of a roster-wide problem.
Remember that the Blue Jackets didn’t trade Jones to the Blackhawks because they felt he was on the decline. He was moved because he proclaimed that he would test the free agency market in the summer of 2022, and they didn’t want to lose him for nothing like they did with Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin.
Blackhawks Believe in Jones
There was a lot of pressure put on Jones before he ever laced up his skates in Chicago. In addition to the cost of acquiring him, Bowman quickly signed him to an eight-year contract extension with a $9.5 million salary-cap hit. While this looks pretty high, as other defensemen around the league like Dougie Hamilton, Cale Makar, and Darnell Nurse put pen to paper this offseason, it was clear Jones received market value for a defenseman of his ability and age.
The bottom line is that Jones is being paid like an elite, top-pairing defenseman, and anything less than that on the ice will lead to a ton of criticism. The pressure doesn’t appear to be too big for the soon-to-be 27-year-old defenseman.
“I mean, you have to just roll with them,” he said when he met the Chicago media for the first time. “There’s always going to be critics in your game, and you can choose not to listen, you can choose to listen. Some of them are wrong, some of them aren’t. I’ll be the first one to say that. I just want to prove every single night that I’m going to work hard for this team, no matter if I make a mistake or not. More times than not, I’m hoping to be successful in the plays I make and the consistency I bring and the leadership I bring every night.”
Jones certainly can talk the talk and has walked the walk in the past. He will need to produce consistently at a high level to live up to these expectations, but he sure has confidence that he will do so.
What the Blackhawks Have in Seth Jones
Chicago fans got to see quite a bit of Jones and the Blue Jackets as they both played in the same division last season. However, the shortened 2020-21 season wasn’t the greatest measuring stick for his talent. That is why I spoke to Scheig, who has covered Jones his entire run in Columbus.
“Jones will be a good fit as the RD anchor the Blackhawks desperately needed,” he said. “Where he will really make an impact is in overtime as the first defender out. Patrick Kane and Jones on one unit is just nasty. Those extra points could mean all the difference in making or missing the playoffs.”
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If you have watched Jones play, you will quickly notice that his skating is elite and Scheig agrees. Skating with speed and agility is critical in today’s game, and he does it very well. Our credentialed Blue Jackets beat reporter admitted that Jones doesn’t have too many weaknesses; however, he could improve when it comes to shutting down an opponent in one-on-one situations. He will bring stability and leadership to the Blackhawks roster, which Scheig says Columbus will miss the most.
Jones will make his Blackhawks debut on Oct. 13 at the Colorado Avalanche. If all things go well, he will quickly establish himself as the No. 1 defenseman and the difference-maker the team has been missing on the back end the last couple of seasons.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.