Caleb Jones grew up in Frisco, Texas and played for the Junior Stars outside of Dallas before joining the US National Team Development Program for two seasons where he honed his skills as a two-way defenceman. In April 2015, he earned a gold medal with Team USA at the U-18 World Championship and was drafted a month later by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round NHL Draft. His father, Popeye, played 12 seasons in the NBA and his older brother, Seth, is entering his fourth NHL season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and will represent Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey this September.
Jones, 19, is participating with Team USA at the 2016 National Junior Evaluation Camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, which also features teams from Canada, Finland and Sweden and I had the chance to chat with the six-foot, 194 pound defenceman to learn more about him.
Q: For those who don't know anything about you, what do you want them to know?
Caleb: I'm really bad with these kinds of questions. (laughing) I don't know...I'm a defenceman. I play for the Portland Winterhawks. My brother plays in the NHL. You might know about him….
Q: Who's that?
Caleb: Seth Jones. He plays for...
|Caleb's brother Seth Jones is a defenceman for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Photo by Getty Images. |
Q: Caleb, I'm totally kidding! I definitely know who your brother is! But since you mentioned it, let's start there. How do you deal with being compared to him?
Caleb: I don't mind. I've been compared to him since I was 13 or 14 when he started playing for the US Program. I just block it out and try to play my own game. I think we're similar in that we're both two-way defencemen and like to contribute offensively, but that's really where things end. I do have my own style of game. I like to play more physical than he does. Honestly, if I just keep playing my game, I know I will eventually just become Caleb. I'll always be his brother, but I know I can be my own player. The comparisons don't bother me though. I see it as motivation to be able to live up to the comparison and be as good as he is.
Q: How have you been able to learn from your brother's experiences and use them to your advantage?
Caleb: I talk to him a little bit about hockey, but not too much. I train with him in the summer and that's the biggest thing I've learned from him, just to be able to see how he trains and being able to skate with him helps to push me to that next level. Any time I ask him about hockey, he tells me what every one else says - Stay calm. Play your game. - but he's been a really good resource for me for the past three or four years, once I was old enough to train with him and skate with him. I really just try to see what he's doing and then do my best to do the same. It seems to be working out ok for him and hopefully it will work out for me too.
Q: Is there anything specific?
Caleb: I don't really learn things - like certain exercises or anything like that - when we're training, it's more like work ethic and watching how hard he works and how hard he tries to get better every day because that's what it means to be a pro and I get to see firsthand what it takes to be successful in the NHL and how committed you have to be. Even off ice with nutrition and eating well...He's always on me to eat healthy, but I give him a hard time about it sometimes because I eat better than him most of the time! I know he wants to help me and is trying to show me that there's a lot more that goes into being an NHL player outside of having the skills to make it and I appreciate having him around to be such a good example for me.
|Caleb Jones, defenceman for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. Photo by Getty Images. |
Q: You have followed in Seth's footsteps your entire career thus far, from the Junior Stars in Dallas to the US National Team Development Program to the Portland Winterhawks. Did you plan it that way?
Caleb: Following in his footsteps really wasn't the plan, it just happened. Being part of the national program was definitely a goal of mine, but Portland was a bit of a surprise. I was thinking about going to college really hard - I was going to play at Wisconsin - but I decided Portland was the better option for me because coming in as an older player I was able to play in the top four D and would get a lot of time on the power play and penalty kill and I think that was really big for my development this past year. Plus, when you know someone who's been there and been successful and had a good experience, you kind of want to go there too because you want the same thing.
Q: What is your mind-set as you prepare for your second rookie camp?
Caleb: Going to Penticton last year was eye opening. I always want to play well, but this year is a little different because they signed me, so I really want to impress them. I obviously want to play in the NHL and it might not happen for me this year, but I'm going to go into camp with the mentality that I'm there to make the team and I'm going to be as prepared as I possibly can. If that's not your mindset, then you might as well not show up.
Q: After you signed your entry-level contract, you had the opportunity to play some games in the AHL. What did you learn from that experience?
Caleb: That was really big for me to be able to play some pro games and gain that experience. I learned a lot just watching those guys and seeing how things worked at that level. Plus, the speed of the game is a lot different from junior and then playing against men. There is very little room for mistakes so the coaches were on me about the details of the game and to do all the little things well. It's definitely a different game than juniors and was a great experience for my development.
Q: With so many eyeballs on you this fall between the Oilers and USA Hockey, how do you plan to differentiate yourself?
Caleb: In every game I play, I like to be the most competitive guy on the ice. That's something I take a lot of pride in and I want to be an impact player on every shift, whether that's blocking a shot or playing offence as well. I like to be an all-around guy and I want to make a difference on every shift. Sometimes that can get me into trouble for doing too much, so that's something I have to be careful with, but most of the time it works out.
|Caleb Jones. Photo by Getty Images. |
Q: You have a gold medal from the U-18 World Championship, seth has two. He also has a World Junior Championship gold medal. Is there any added pressure to get one for yourself?
Caleb: Whether Seth has one or not, I want one of my own. Whenever you can play for your country, it's great. I did win a medal at the World U-17 Challenge and he didn't so I've got that on him, but it's not a competition between us. We both like to represent USA and we both want to win gold medals and that's what it's all about. Not being invited to selection camp last December put a little more fuel on the fire for me and I came in to this camp with the goal of being the best defenceman here and showing them that I belong here and I plan to continue that through the regular season. I don't want them to have any questions about naming me to this team in December.
The National Junior Evaluation Camp continues on Friday with Canada taking on Sweden at 11 a.m. MDT and USA playing Finland at 2 p.m. MDT and culminates on Saturday with two rivalry games - Sweden vs Finland at 2 p.m. MDT; Canada vs USA at 5 p.m. MDT. All games will air live on TSN.