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Jones hopes to use #WCH2016 as springboard to season

21-year-old defenseman is a key piece of Blue Jackets' present and future

by Evan Sporer / For BlueJackets.com

TORONTO - Seth Jones averaged a career-high 22:05 of ice time during the 2015-16 season, the first time in the 21-year-old defenseman's career he skated for over 20 minutes per-game for an entire season.

It's the type of usage reserved for top-of-the-depth-chart defensemen, drawing the assignment of matching up against top forwards.

At the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, every line consists of top forwards, meaning no matter what Jones' role is for Team North America, the competition won't wilt.

"A lot of us have an advantage going into the season," Jones said. "We're already a step or two ahead of everybody else. We're already playing top-notch games, extremely fast games against the best players in the world."

It's a tournament and tune-up and jumpstart that will serve Jones well for his first full season in Columbus. The 41 games he played for the Blue Jackets last season, in which he saw his playing time increase, was a dive into the deep end of the pool for Jones.

"That was part of the trade: more opportunity," he said. "I'm playing in all situations right now.

"The [defensemen] in Nashville were obviously fantastic, and it was tough to get minutes there. Even the guys who should have been getting more minutes weren't getting enough minutes because there were so many."

By no means was Jones sheltered as a Nashville Predator, but on a blue line that boasted the likes of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis, minutes were hard to come by.

He averaged 19:39 of ice time in Nashville, and then saw that number jump to over 24 minutes in Columbus. It's the portrait that was painted for Jones when the Predators selected him with the fourth pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft: to be a top-pairing defenseman.

Now in Columbus, where Jones will turn 22 years old 10 days prior to the Blue Jackets season opener in October, the young but experienced Jones is in line to be a major figure in Columbus' defensive plans for a full season.

And there might not be a better place for Jones to prepare for that kind of season than in Toronto in the best-on-best international tournament.

"Obviously there's a lot of skill," Jones said. "Teams are going to get theirs but we've been doing a great job. If we communicate and we play well and we have good goaltending, we're going to do a good job keeping the puck out of the net."

Communication he said was key to ensuring his transition to Columbus was as smooth as possible.

He spent nearly all of it alongside defensive partner Ryan Murray, whom he shared a podium with at media day.

Jones played over 773 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey in Columbus; over 553 of them, or about 72 percent of his even strength time, were spent with Murray.

"Systems-wise, I got to Columbus and I told him to kind of push me around and guide me, where I need to be the first couple of games," Jones said. "We adjusted a lot quicker than I thought we would.

"It's always a transition going to a new system and a new d-partner. He helped me a lot, and did a great job of communicating with me in the games. We came together really quick in the second half."

The two defensemen, 21 (Jones) and 22 (Murray) in age, have accumulated a combined 400 NHL games played.

Defensive partners in Columbus, and defensive partners to begin the World Cup, Jones and Murray see the potential for a long future together.

"We just have to play well; we have to show up," Murray said. "You can't just say you have two good players, and you'll put them together, and everything is going to be green grass. We know that there's a lot of work to do.

"If we want to play together for a long time, we have to be good together for a long time."

But Murray said he learned plenty about Jones last season, enough to know a full season next to Jones is an exciting prospect.

"He just moves the puck well; he's a great puck mover," Murray said. "He's very offensive, so he's a pleasure to play with. He's always making plays, and obviously one of the very skilled defensemen in the league.

"Whenever you're showing up for a game, you like to see your number besides his."

Now they're on hockey's biggest stage, with the hopes of using the World Cup as a springboard into a successful season in Columbus.

"We have a lot of young guys that have a year's more experience now on our team," Jones said. "We had five 20-or-more goal scorers on our team last year. We're looking up from here, and [head coach John Tortorella] is going to help push us to that next level as well on the ice as a unit."

 

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