The 2016-17 season was a busy one for Seth Jones. In his first full season as a Blue Jacket, he set career highs in goals (12), assists (30) and points (42), tied the franchise mark for most goals by a defenseman, and was named to the NHL All-Star team.
But it wasn't just what the 22-year-old defenseman did for his team on the ice that drew notice. As part of one of the youngest rosters in the NHL, Jones became a key piece in mentoring rookie Jackets defensemen throughout the year.
"He's a big reason why I feel confident out there," Zach Werenski said. "When I make a bad play or good play he'll tell me 'keep doing that,' or 'don't do that,' or 'do this next time.' It's huge for a young guy to hear it from another player who's out there battling with you. You take it more to heart. He's been good with me by being vocal. I'm really thankful for that."
Jones' ability to mentor his young teammates is rooted in a few things. First, his experience. Rookie Jackets players were quick to cite the impressive body of work built up in a short time by a player who's not that much older than them. Through four years in the NHL, Jones has played 315 regular season games and 11 in the post-season. He's played in the World Cup of Hockey for Team North America and in the World Championships at multiple levels. And he's only 22.
In addition to having experience, Jackets coaches praise the defenseman's communication style.
"'Jonesy' is a good one in just how treats his teammates," John Tortorella said. "He's very easy to talk to. He's got such a great demeanor about it."
The task of communicating is one Jones embraces. Given that his first NHL game wasn't too long ago, the Texas native can still remember how he felt the first time he lined up to play in the league. He recalls what it was like to learn a new system first with Nashville, and then when he came to Columbus last season.
"I try to make it easy (when I'm playing with a rookie defenseman)," Jones said. "My first NHL game, I wanted touches. I wanted everything to go the right way.
"When you're brand new to the league, or to the system we play, it's a little harder for new guys. I try to help them through that, communicate on the ice, remind them to play their game."
Though the majority of Jones' season had him paired with Werenski, he also lined up with rookie Markus Nutivaara for a few games, and when Gabriel Carlsson joined the Jackets for the final two games of the regular season, he played over 40% of his even strength minutes with Jones.
"It felt really good to play with him, he's a good player," Carlsson said. "(The way he talked with me) helped a lot to know where to put the puck and where he is. I try to seek as much information as possible from him, and look and learn from what he's doing and try to take that with me."
With Jones not just contributing through his own play, but by working with his fellow defenseman to help each of them be their best on the ice, the future looks bright for the Blue Jackets blue line.
"Seth has taken more of a leadership role in the room," Jarmo Kekalainen said. "He's just getting started. He's been in the league for a while, but he's so young, and he's got another level or two for sure to go to. I'm so excited about our defense. And yeah, he will have to be a big part of it."