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CONDORS: Jones striving to become a 'big-time player'

"This is the time of the year when big-time players try to step up," said Condors defenceman Caleb Jones as he gears up for the Pacific Division Finals.

by Tony Brar /

BAKERSFIELD, CA - Caleb Jones continues to revolutionize his game.

Coming off what the defenceman called a "tougher year" as a rookie pro in 2017-18, Jones has worked closely with the Bakersfield Condors coaching staff to develop his all-around skill set, yearning to make an impact on both sides of the puck.

"The offensive side of his game - him transporting the puck up the ice or supporting the rush - comes natural," said Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft. "It's instinctual to him, it's what stands out when you watch a game. His attention to the defensive side of the puck has improved greatly, which has led to increased minutes and responsibility.

"I'm really impressed with how hard he plays; how heavy he plays around our net. He's put a lot of time and effort in being a full 200-foot player and it's a real positive with him on the year as a whole. Caleb's year is a huge positive storyline for the organization."

Jones' offensive instincts became apparent to the hockey world when the 2015 fourth round pick racked up 117 points (19G, 98A) in 135 games for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks over two seasons.  

However, in his first year of pro hockey, Jones owned a minus-25 rating. His offense was limited to two goals and 15 assists as the rearguard experienced growing pains in his own end.

"He got better as last year went on but we really wanted him to concentrate on the defensive side of the puck this year," said the Condors bench boss.

Video: RAW | Caleb Jones 05.02.19

Jones took the lessons in stride.

After a full summer of training and a good showing at Oilers Main Camp, the 6-foot-1 defender began making major strides on the ice.

Jones finished the '18-19 AHL regular season besting his first-year marks, recording six goals, 23 assists and a plus-16 rating in 50 games.

"I think throughout the year, I've made strides defensively," said Jones following Thursday's practice. "Coming in, (Condors Assistant Coach) Dave Manson made a couple of things clear with me. He's been really good with showing me video and I've just been trying to grow every day.

"He's played over 1000 games in the NHL, so I try to pick his brain whenever I can."

Jones got his own little taste of NHL action when he was called up to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec 13, 2018.

Appearing in 17 games with the big club, he was tasked with playing 19 or more minutes ten times, indicating he was earning the trust of Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock as he familiarized himself with the NHL game.

"I was there in December and the NHL really starts picking up at that time of year - teams are starting to ramp it up," said Jones. "So it was exciting and a good learning experience. I would say I had some ups and downs but I left there still feeling confident about my ability to play at that level.

"When you get a taste of it, you want to get back but the main focus here is just getting wins every night and trying to take my experience from there, with the pace and everything, and just try to apply it here (in the Calder Cup Playoffs)."

Video: CONDORS | Round 2 Preview

Caleb's brother (and Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman) Seth Jones has been a mainstay in the NHL for six seasons. While he may be busy with a playoff run of his own, Seth continues to be a mentor for younger brother Caleb as he progresses through the ranks.

"Mentally, he's just helped me out like 'you know you're a good player' and just have confidence," said Caleb. "That's something that he told me a lot about when he was first coming in. Once he got over that hump of playing in the NHL and playing against some of the guys you've watched growing up, you get that confidence to go against them. That's probably one of the biggest things he's helped me with.

"We text every once-in-a-while and he's been giving me some pointers about playoff hockey and how this is the time of the year when big-time players try to step up."

With a timely set-up back in Game 1 against the Colorado Eagles and multiple impactful defensive plays throughout the first round, it's safe to say Caleb is well on his way in becoming that 'big-time player.'

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