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Jones aims to take next step with Predators

by Dan Rosen

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Just as Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones was talking about feeling less stress going into his second season because he has more certainty about his job, his surroundings, his game and the NHL as a whole, he realized all of that might not be true.

"I do have a new coach, so it's almost like doing it again," Jones said.

Jones doesn't have anything to worry about there.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette is one of Jones' biggest fans. He said Jones, who will turn 20 on Oct. 3, is ready to take the next step in his career, to being a more consistent, offensive-minded, minute-munching defenseman in Nashville.

Jones, the fourth pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, feels the same way. He wants to prove the hype is for real and that what he did last season (25 points in 77 games) was a small sample of the big plans he has for his burgeoning career.

"Everything last year was under the spotlight just because they were trying to see if I could make the team," Jones said. "This year is a lot different. I'm not a veteran but I feel a lot more confident."

Jones already has proven to Laviolette what he can do when his minutes go up. It happened at the 2014 IIHF World Championship, where Jones was a defenseman for the United States, a team coached by Laviolette and Nashville assistant Phil Housley.

Jones was selected as the tournament's best defenseman after leading the U.S. and all defensemen with nine assists and 11 points in eight games. He averaged 25:38 of ice time per game and was a plus-8 with 17 shots on goal.

"He really was our top minute-getter, our top dog back there, playing the hard minutes against the other team's best players, and in all situations," Laviolette said. "He handled that incredibly. He ended up getting named best defenseman of the tournament, and rightly so. He looked very confident and very strong with what he was doing throughout the entire tournament."

Jones said the World Championship served as a preview for what he expects will take place in Nashville. The up-tempo offensive elements of Laviolette's system should suit Jones' game well because he's a smooth skater with offensive instincts and escapability despite being 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.

"It definitely helps with my game because he likes the defensemen to get up in the rush to create offensively," Jones said. "I have to play [defense] first and he'll trust when you see a play developing that you'll be able to jump into a play in a smart situation."

Jones said the toughest part of his rookie season was handling the physical and mental rigors of an 82-game NHL season. He said he remembered waking up some mornings and feeling like his 19-year-old bones had aged rapidly.

"I actually played more games, like 95 games, the year before, with Memorial Cup and World Juniors, but that wasn't as physically demanding as 82 in the NHL," Jones said.

He said he learned last season to manage the highs and lows he experienced as well as his own body maintenance and expectations.

"You're playing on adrenaline in the first half of the season because you're just so excited to be there," Jones said. "As a kid you dream about playing in the NHL so every game is a rush when you're playing against a different team. But [in] the second half I started to understand it's a lot longer than I thought and to take a step back. I had some peaks and valleys that I went through last year, and this year I'm more confident that I'm going to make the smarter decision."

Jones, though, realizes the demands on him only will go up this season, especially if Laviolette uses him for more than 20 minutes per game; he averaged 19:37 per game last season.

He trained for more ice time, more responsibility, and for the grind of 82 games (plus the Stanley Cup Playoffs) by spending the summer in Nashville and working with Predators strength and conditioning coach David Good.

Jones said he put on seven pounds as he worked his lower body and core to give himself more stability on his skates.

"He had a good first year," Laviolette said. "He was being recognized as a potential candidate for the United States Olympic team. That's good company. But I think as you grow you want to become more consistent with your game. You want to be the guy that is counted on. I'm sure that's what he's looking for, and we'll be looking for that out of him as well."

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