BROOKLYN — Seth Jones has moved from the shadows into the spotlight.
During his first two NHL seasons, Jones found himself eclipsed by two of the league’s top defenseman, Shea Weber and Roman Josi. But a week after being traded from Nashville to Columbus in the blockbuster deal that sent forward Ryan Johansen to the Music City, Jones is in a whole new situation. And stepping out from behind Weber and Josi may be exactly what the newest Blue Jacket needs to take his game to the next level.
Columbus just has to be patient. Jones, 21, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, has excellent offensive potential from the blue line, having scored 25 points as a rookie, 27 in 2014-15, and 11 in 40 games with Nashville this season. But four games into his Blue Jackets tenure, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones has a single assist and a –2 rating. He’s seen just one win with his new team, a 3–1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Wednesday that followed three straight losses.
In Tuesday’s 5–2 loss to the Islanders, his third game with Columbus, Jones was exposed at several points while playing a season-high 23:44, including when New York’s Ryan Strome snuck right behind him for the game’s first goal. But all of that is part of the learning curve with a new team and coach.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, that’s for sure,” Jones said of the last week. “We haven’t gotten the results we wanted, but I feel a lot more comfortable with my teammates. Just communicating with them is going to be very big from here on out. But I’m very excited.”
To get him accustomed to his new teammates and their style of play, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is spending extra time with the young defenseman. When they arrived at Barclays Center on Tuesday morning, Tortorella took Jones aside after a team meeting to break down video of Columbus’s previous game.
“He was up the ice, his passing and his subtle plays were much more evident in his second game,” Tortorella said. “What I do like about him, he’s a very business-like, very quiet kid, but I think he’s a confident kid. We expect big things out of him, and you can see in his second game what we expect of him.”
When Jones does get familiar with his new team and system, Tortorella doesn’t plan on holding him back.
“Oh, the reins are up. The reins are up on all our ‘D’,” Tortorella said. “It’s just them feeling comfortable skating up the ice. We’ll never handcuff them–they’re an important part of creating offense in our league, with the way teams defend and block shots.”
But a defenseman, no matter how good or promising he may be, isn’t enough to turn around a Columbus blue line corps that has allowed a league-high 144 goals this season and currently sits in last place in the league. But this trade was never meant to pay off right away. Five years from now, however, it could be looked back on as the deal that made Columbus a consistent playoff contender, as Jones should become to the Blue Jackets what Weber has been to Nashville all these years. Simply put, Jonescan be a game changer. After all, that’s why the Jackets traded a top-line center in Johansen in order to acquire him.
“He’s going to be a good player, you can see by the way he jumps up into the rush,” Jackets winger Brandon Saad said. “It’s just a tough situation for him, he comes to a team like us that’s struggling from a team that’s played so well, which is something we’re not doing right now, so I’m sure it’s not easy for him.
“But he’ll definitely make us better.”
Jones just needs time.
“They’ve all made it very easy for me, had their arms wide open for me, from the leadership group to the team management,” he said. “I’m happy to be where I’m at.”