Breaking Down Seth Jones' Ceiling After Hot Start to NHL Career

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Breaking Down Seth Jones' Ceiling After Hot Start to NHL Career
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
Seth Jones has had an impact at both ends of the ice this season.

The Nashville Predators have an extremely valuable asset in young Seth Jones. Size, speed, offensive acumen—there's a lot to like and he's 19 years old, in the NHL and impressing observers.

Jones already possesses a wide range of skills that, once he matures, could give Nashville an impact player at both ends of the ice. There are very few NHL players in any era who possess the full range of skills and remain healthy over a long period. Jones' resume suggests he could be such a player. He could be the next Drew Doughty.

Still, there are those who suggest recent history offers significant proof that elevating teenagers to such a prominent role can result in disappointment.

What makes Jones so special? 

Since 2008-09, there have been 10 NHL regular defensemen who have played 50 or more games as rookie teenagers (about two per season). As luck would have it, five of them played in the CHL and give us a nice comparison to Jones in his draft season. 

One of the things that sets Jones apart as a teenager is offensive potential, which, when added to the other traits on his resume, allows him to be considered a future complete defenseman—someone who can handle all disciplines and be responsible in all areas. It's a rare and valuable thing.

Even early in his rookie NHL season, Jones handles the puck with authority and is naturally aggressive in the offensive zone.

CHL POINTS PER GAME IN JUNIOR SEASON BEFORE DRAFT
Cam Fowler 55GP, 8G, 47A, 55PTS 1.00 PPG
Michael Del Zotto 64GP, 16G, 47A, 63PTS 0.98 PPG
Seth Jones 61GP, 14G, 42A, 56PTS 0.92 PPG
Drew Doughty 58GP, 13G, 37A, 50PTS 0.86 PPG
Luke Schenn 57GP, 7G, 21A, 28PTS 0.49 PPG
Tyler Myers 65GP, 6G, 13A, 19PTS 0.29 PPG

courtesy of WHL.ca and OntarioHockeyLeague.com

This shows us that Jones compares well to the five other teenagers offensively, giving him one more role he might successfully fill at the NHL level. Whereas Luke Schenn or Tyler Myers were considered future shutdown or stay-at-home types, Jones' numbers suggest that even when he's struggling defensively—which happens to all defensemen, not just rookie teenagers—he can help the team in an offensive role.

As such, Jones is more complete as a prospect than Myers and Schenn coming out of junior, and more comparable to Cam Fowler, Michael Del Zotto and Doughty.

The early proof comes from Jones' first 13 NHL games during which he's scored twice and added four assists on an offensively challenged Nashville team. 

The defensemen listed above came with varying degrees of defensive reputation and once again Jones compares well to the group. Schenn and Myers were considered stronger defensive players on their draft days while Doughty came with a very good defensive reputation and was considered the most "complete" defender in the group.

Fowler and Del Zotto had impressive offense, but were considered to be projects defensively.

This brings us to Jones. We've already established he's in the range of the best offensive teenagers coming out of the draft over the last few years, but how does he look defensively? There are a lot of positives about Jones' game and they were touched on in TSN's final predraft rankings for the 2013 class:

He is blessed with great athletic ability and he moves about the ice with ease and the ability to use his skating to his advantage either defensively or offensively. He understands how to use his advantages to gain the upper hand and whether it is a skill situation or a physical situation, he is able to do it a forceful manner. He is an excellent passer who remains composed under pressure and he has a heavy shot, which poses considerable challenges for goalies. The word that comes to mind when you watch him is: unique. He has all the makings of being a cornerstone defenceman.

The gifted youngster has delivered early in the NHL. In an interview with The Gazette, Predators general manager David Poile offered glowing praise for the youngster:

I don’t think any of us saw that coming.

You’d probably think you wean a player into your lineup, especially a younger player, in maybe the third pairing and the fifth or sixth amount of ice time. I mean, I thought that would probably be the normal way to do it.

But there’s nothing normal about this. We got the Roman Josi injury. He seemed to be the best fit to come up to play with Shea and they’ve played really well together. As you know, he’s playing his off side, which is not easy for anybody, and he seems to do really well on that.

This is a gifted player, so good that he may in fact make the three teams who passed on him at the 2013 entry draft wince for 15 years or more.

He has a range of skills, and the importance of that fact cannot be underestimated. All young defensemen struggle, and when they do, it's important to have another area they can contribute in.

When Schenn struggled or Myers came upon hard times, they did not have the combination of speed and offensive ability to remain productive. On the other hand, during times of struggle for Del Zotto and Fowler, they could not rely on outstanding defensive acumen to stay in the lineup and work through their problems while remaining productive.

Jones is playing almost 25 minutes a night and consistently delivering high-quality outings.

History tells us there will be a time when his offense dries up or he is exposed defensively. The great news for Jones and the Predators is that the rookie should be able to contribute in at least one area during these key developmental moments.

In this way, he most closely resembles Doughty from the group above, and that's a very nice neighborhood.

Gifted teenage defensemen who display a complete skill set are extremely rare and Jones may be that franchise blueliner that every NHL team covets.

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