Seth Jones is proving himself to be one of the best defensemen in the league at the age of 23, as quietly as one could, after an unexpected start to his pro career.
It was 5:30 PM on Jan. 6, 2016. Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones had just sat down at a Nashville steakhouse and heard his phone buzzing. He saw his general manager David Poile calling. Either he was getting a 2-month belated birthday wish, or his career as a Nashville Predator was about to come to an abrupt end.
Exactly two years later, he sits calmly in his home locker room stall at Nationwide Arena, down to his warm-up clothes after a Saturday practice. The team was preparing for a home matchup with the Florida Panthers the next day, after getting blanked in Colorado a few nights before.
After starting the month of December with the second most points the club had ever had at that point in a season, the Jackets went on to lose nine of their next 15 games, including a concerning 5-0 loss on New Year’s Day to the best team in the league.
Jones is used to the ebb and flow of a season, and even life, more so. His overall demeanor is one mixed of being relaxed and confident, looking across the locker room with his hands folded in his lap, showing no signs of midseason anxiety or the weight of a heavy weekend practice.
Having a father in Popeye Jones that played in the NBA had some to do with this, as consistently moving cities and adapting to new environments became a commonality for Seth’s life. Trades often rocked his childhood world, and just recently, his adult-one as well.
“It was a dagger at first”, he admitted as he recalled that night a few years back. “It was my first time being traded. I was young, and you don’t expect it when it happens. When I answered the call, David said, “We traded you to the Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen”…and I was on a flight to Columbus two hours later.”
There had been preparation for moments like these throughout Jones’ whole life, such as moving from Texas to Toronto to Boston to Colorado all before the age of four. When he arrived in Colorado, he didn’t know if this was just another pit-stop or if his life would finally slow down.
As it turned out, it wasn’t either.
Though he would remain in Colorado for the next seven years and therefore not needing to pack his bags so quickly, he was just beginning a journey that had no room for complacency or settling.
The team that had just beaten the Jackets in present day was the one that lit the fire under Jones for his hockey career. After witnessing in-person the game seven victory by the Colorado Avalanche over the New Jersey Devils in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, his passion was sealed, and “the rest was history”— or that’s the way he would put it at least.
“I think everything happens for a reason, and I love being here and love where I’m at right now…I couldn’t be happier here,” Jones explained.
Though illness kept Jones out of his second All-Star Game appearance, he is still looking to propel a franchise that has been on the cusp of championship contention for a few seasons—one that could become one of the most feared across the league and do some damage when spring rolls around.
But this isn’t the end-all-be-all for Jones, as it seems like it would be for so many others at his youthful age of 23. While being in the position he is in now has been a dream since June of 2001 sitting in the Pepsi Center, he has deeper aspirations, ones that will drive his game further now, and leave a longer impact when he hangs up his skates.
“My legacy away from the game is more important for me…being known as a leader and someone who brought it every night. I want to be known as a classy guy,” Jones said. “Hopefully I’m on the right track.”
As for the here and now on the ice, Jones knows his team will be do its job to push out of slumps, dry spells and unfamiliar situations, and he’s giving himself part of the responsibility in that area.
“I want to be a consistent leader—I don’t say much in the locker room (compared to the veterans) but to be that guy who can step up every night for the team and lead by example is a personal goal of mine.”
Jones knew this season would be more difficult right off the bat for the team, with the likelihood of a franchise record 16-game win streak like the season prior being slim in almost any regard. Even still, he is as confident as ever in his teammates keeping level-heads, growing alongside one another and making Columbus the team to beat.
As one of the youngest players on the youngest team in the league, Jones is up for the task. He’s been ready.