NEWARK, N.J. -- Rookie defenseman Seth Jones has had his share of ups and downs this season.
That's expected of a 19-year-old player not accustomed to the wear and tear of a full season in the National Hockey League. Make no mistake, there have been more positive moments than forgettable ones for Jones, but even he felt his demotion to the third defensive pair in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday was deserved.
"I didn't have a very good game, and it's been a couple of games now where I made some mistakes that I can't make. … That's the way it is," Jones told NHL.com. "When you're not playing well, you get moved down. I'm trying to be consistent, and we'll see where that goes. I made some mistakes, and that can't happen."
Coach Barry Trotz opted to move Jones alongside Ryan Ellis midway through the third period of the 5-0 loss in Winnipeg. Jones, the No. 4 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, would finish with 16:44 of ice time, his lowest total of the season. He's averaged an incredible 24:40 this season, the second highest total on the team behind captain Shea Weber (26:31).
Weber found himself with a new partner late in the game Friday in Mattias Ekholm. Keep in mind that Ekholm might have been regarded as the organization's top defensive prospect before the selection of Jones on June 30.
Trotz had Jones back with Weber on Sunday when the Predators played the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
After a solid first period, Jones again struggled to find that consistent level of play that was more evident earlier in the season. The Predators dropped another 5-0 decision in the fifth game of a seven-game road trip. Jones has gone four games without registering a shot on net, and he has a minus-5 rating over that stretch.
Still, to hear Trotz describe Jones, you would think he was referring to a wily veteran.
"I asked him a question the other day at the hotel and he had a great answer; a very mature, respectful answer," Trotz said. "He knows he has to earn everything he gets, and [that's] in this day and age of guys coming into the League who haven't done anything and have a lot to say, so he's different. He's very respectful on and off the ice, and has a very mature game."
Jones was asked if he felt as though Trotz treats him more like a veteran than a wide-eyed rookie.
"That's a better question for him," he said. "I just come in and try to do my best every game. I was put in this position, and I'm happy where I'm at. I expect my 'A' game every night, and I'm trying to be as consistent as I can so that he can trust me in certain situations."
Trust is something Jones has already earned from everyone in the Predators locker room.
"I don't treat him like a 19-year-old," Trotz said. "I treat him like a young veteran. Still, some things he must learn, but his natural ability and understanding of the game is good.
"You can tell the respect a young guy earns by the way the veterans treat him. You can always tell which guys get it. The vets have pulled him in and said, 'Hey, we know you're going to be a special player and big piece of this team.' He and Shea have formed a good relationship. Shea took him in at training camp and let him live at his house."
It's easy to see why Trotz expects more of his prized first-year defenseman.
Jones leads all first-year players in average time on ice and ranks among the League's top 20 in the category. His average time on ice is nearly four minutes more than the next closest rookie, Jacob Trouba (21:15) of the Jets. The Arlington, Tex., native is tied for 10th in points (eight) among first-year players and ranks second in power-play points (four), seventh in power-play goals (one) and 14th in shots on goal (26) among rookies.
"The biggest obstacle for Seth is just knowing who you're playing against, knowing the players of other teams and what characteristics they possess," Nashville assistant coach Phil Housley said. "It's a long season. You will have your ups and downs, but it's how you can remain consistent. Those are the things he will need to get comfortable with. He just needs to be ready to play at the start of the game."
Housley coached Jones on the United States National Junior Team that won gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Russia. He considered him a unique talent then, as he does now.
"Every game for Seth is like a [Canadian Hockey League championship] Memorial Cup game because the pace is good, there are good players and it's a good League," Housley said. "You have to bring that every game, and that's the consistency we're talking about. You have to be mentally and physically prepared."
Jones shrugs and smiles when asked if the grind of the NHL has already gotten the best of him.
"Your body gets sore, but it's still pretty early in the season here and you just have to do your best to kind of put that aside," he said. "Once you get out there and start playing, all the soreness seems to go away. It's just another night of hockey."
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