When the Blue Jackets swung a blockbuster deal with the Nashville Predators one year ago, they did so with the intention of transforming their team.
More specifically, the wanted to transform their defense, which needed to get younger and more dynamic. Acquiring Seth Jones was a significant step in that direction.
Now 22 years old and with a full year under his belt in Columbus, Jones has not only become one of the Blue Jackets' game-changers on the blue line, but he's also quietly become a leader within the room. His selection to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game was richly deserved in the eyes of his coaches and teammates, who have seen Jones' game take major strides in a short time with the Blue Jackets.
Jones will be joined by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and also his head coach, John Tortorella, as Blue Jackets representatives in Los Angeles.
"It's terrific for 'em," Tortorella said. "That All-Star stuff is kind of an individual thing. It's so young in his career with Jonesy, and with Bob it's well-deserved. There's a few others guys (on the team) that probably had a couple of looks, but to get a couple of guys on the team, it's great."
Before the trade to Columbus, Jones was playing third-pairing minutes with the Predators and saw occasional time on the power play, but his place in the lineup was determined largely by what was in front of him. Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, all locked into lucrative long-term contracts (and deservedly so), were getting the bulk of the minutes for Peter Laviolette but that didn't mean the Predators weren't aware of his elite potential.
Video: CBJ@VAN: Jones buries Atkinson's pass for OT winner
The proof is in the deal itself: in order to pry Jones out of Nashville, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen had to surrender a significant piece of his own in promising center Ryan Johansen.
It turned out to be one of the biggest deals in hockey during 2016. And it's safe to say that, to this point, it has worked out for Columbus.
"I think he's really matured in that he knows his role," Tortorella said. "Remember, he came from a team where he was (on) the third pair, and it was force-fed to him right away when he came here with the minutes he got. I think over the summer he realized how important he is to this organization, and I look at him and Wennberg, they have taken huge steps as far as accepting responsibility."
At the time of Jones' All-Star selection, he was the Blue Jackets' time on ice leader, averaging over 23 minutes per game. He's teamed with 19-year-old rookie Zach Werenski to form one of the more young and talented defense pairings in the NHL, and when they're on the ice, the Blue Jackets have established a pattern of driving play at even strength.
Jones is tied eighth among all NHL defensemen in goals (seven) and seventh in game-winning goals with two, both of which were scored in 3-on-3 overtime - a format in which he has been a regular and consistent threat.
Video: CBJ@MIN: Jones roofs Saad's nice feed past Dubnyk
With 38 points in 74 games in a Blue Jackets sweater, Jones is humming along at a 40-point scoring pace over 82 games, which places his name among some of the best defensemen in the game.
What Jones has done to this point has been impressive, and then you remember he's only 22.
"It's one of those things that 'if it happens, it happens,'" Jones said of his All-Star nod. "You have a good first half and something like this happens. I'm just trying to play hockey and do what I can for this team; (the All-Star selection) is a nice little side note for the season."
"That's the gut of your team, your defense and your center icemen," Tortorella said. "Jonesy has gone through the same mental process as Wenny; he knows he needed to do more, and now he's trying to carry people along with him."