Sophomore seasons in the National Hockey League are most known for the slump in production and play that comes with it. All too often, young stars have a tremendous rookie campaign, only to be followed by a season where the player doesn’t live up to expectations. Young defensemen, in particular, take time to develop and reach their potential. For Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators, he’s been thrown into a role that comes with great responsibility.
Whenever injuries happened on the blueline this season, it was Jones that was called upon to help fill that void with more time on the ice. Jones has seen action in all 81 games for the Predators this season. By the time you read this, it may already be 82 games, a full, regular season. In his second season, production-wise, Jones surpassed his rookie year in points, 27 (8G-19A) in 2014-15 compared to 25 (6G-19A) in 2013-14. While offensive production isn’t the most important role for a defenseman, being able to contribute in his second year has been an asset to a team that has, at times, had trouble finding the back of the net in streaks.
“This year I came in and it’s not just points, but just my play overall and consistency,” said Jones. “I make decisions, not being too risky and what not, but I thought I had a pretty good season. We have a game left, but I’m pretty happy with the season that I had. I could have been better in some areas, but my overall play was pretty good.”
During the last offseason, Jones elected to stay in Nashville to continue his training. The large-framed blueliner will be a behemoth on the ice once his body finishes filling out. Just those few extra months of offseason training with the Nashville staff could be one reason why he’s been fairly consistent this season.
Throughout the 2014-15 season, it’s been noticeable at home how much the defense gets involved in the offensive zone. While growing up and through his career, Jones hasn’t been afraid to take the puck into the offensive to create opportunities. How many times, especially against Canadian-based NHL clubs, has it seemed like Jones took matters into his own hands to score a goal? Phil Housley has been a major reason for this, but Peter Laviolette also like seeing this out of his defensemen.
“It has been encouraged,” said Jones on the defense activating from the blueline. “Laviolette is also a huge fan of the defense skating the puck in. You see it with every single one of our defensemen during games. Josi, myself, Ellis and Ekholm, we skate the puck up, even Shea. Everyone is capable of skating the puck up, and that’s kind of what the coach wants. Having Phil back there, he understands that it’s not going to work out and sometimes it will. He was that kind of player, so he understands what comes with it.”
As Jones admitted, he is still a work in progress. Every team, no matter the sport, seems to have a whipping boy that gets a lot of blame from fans. This season, it’s been seen on social media that fans tend to be displeased with Jones whenever he makes a poor decision. Each player makes poor decisions, but the criticism of Jones is very high. Is it because of where he was drafted and the expectations put upon him? Quite possibly. It could also be expectations put on him by fans that have seen not only how Shea Weber has developed, but also Roman Josi.
The defensive role for Jones has continued to increase this season under Peter Laviolette. Most recently, when Shea Weber missed games against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, Seth Jones skated next to Roman Josi on the top pairing. In the two games, he logged 26:19 and 24:51, respectively, all while seeing time on both special teams units. Jones scored a goal against Calgary and Jones had 5:36 in ice time on the power play when Nashville faced Vancouver. Getting these opportunities is helping in his development. As he puts an end to his second NHL season, being surrounded by successful defensemen will continue to aid in Jones reaching his full potential, which is still a few years away.
“It’s been a big part of my development for sure,” said Jones on being given more responsibility. “Even with those couple of games with Weber being injured, I’ve been able to step in and play some big minutes. That’s the first time I’ve done that this year. I was excited to have that opportunity and tried to make the most of it. Your decision making is important, but especially when you’re playing against first liners, like Ovechkin, Backstrom and the Sedins, you have to be a little more careful and play the game smart.”
It’s important to remember that Jones is only 20 years old. Last year was a huge transition year for him as he went straight from junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks to becoming a pro with the Predators. For a rookie, he met expectations, even with a slow down late in the season.
Will there be times when a player’s decision frustrates the fan base? Absolutely. The most important thing is that a player learns from mistakes and addresses them. Like most athletes, Jones is a competitor, and he’ll continue to do whatever it takes to improve his game to surpass not only the team and fan expectations, but also his own.
Photo credit: Kristen Jerkins