The average 19-year-old American is spending their sophomore year of college navigating the delicate balance between meeting course requirements and trying to get someone of legal age to score them a keg of Old Milwaukee for the secret Friday night party in their buddy’s dorm room.
Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators is not your average 19-year-old.
The fourth pick of the 2013 draft has acquitted himself well since winning a job on the Predators blue line out of training camp. Partly due to injuries to teammates, natural talent and poise well beyond his years, Jones has been logging big minutes while dealing with high expectations and the increased responsibility of a high-pressure job.
Jones has something very few athletes have when it comes to acclimating to the professional lifestyle. His father is Popeye Jones, who spent 11 seasons in the NBA and is currently an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. His mother is Amy Jones, who moved to Tennessee to live with her son and give him a much-needed support system during his rookie season.
For Predators coach Barry Trotz, Jones’ smooth transition has helped make his job of managing a 19-year-old that much easier.
“I’ll say this with Seth—he’s had a pretty good teacher with his father and his mother,” Trotz said. “I think they both have given him some pretty good tips. He carries himself very, very well for a young man at 19. If you talk to him, on and off the ice, I think he’s a lot more mature than some of our guys that are a lot older than him.
“I think that’s probably a little bit of the environment he grew up in, and he saw it first hand. He’s handled the attention given to him by being a high draft pick and his background and all that very, very well. He’s very mature.”
|Rookie defensemen leading scorers|
|NHL.com, through Monday|
Jones says it’s great having his mom around during the season, because what 19-year-old really wants to cook for himself? It's also not that much different than playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL and living with a family that housed and fed him during the season.
“I have a good relationship with my mom so it’s not like she’s constantly bugging me or I hate being home,” Jones said. “But it is pretty similar to having a billet mom. She cooks dinner. She takes good care of me.”
Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers has a pretty good idea of what Jones is going through this season, although Del Zotto didn't have as cushy a setup during his rookie season.
Just like Jones, Del Zotto was 19 during his first season in the NHL in 2009-10 after he was chosen in the first round. But unlike Jones, Del Zotto spent his rookie season living with teammate Brian Boyle, who was 25 at the time and a complete stranger, after spending an additional season in the OHL. While Jones was unknowingly being trained in the pro lifestyle while moving from big city to big city with his dad, Del Zotto was raised in Stouffville, a small town in Ontario that didn’t do much to prepare him for living in Manhattan.
“For me, I came from a town of 20,000 and moving to New York City was a huge adjustment,” Del Zotto said. “I love it, but that first bit, just how aggressive the driving was, how many people there were. It was tough but you get used to it and that comes with embracing a new lifestyle.
“Me and Boyler lived together, which was a lot of fun. It was just a lot of fun because he was a few years older than me and he helped me out with a lot of stuff as far as off the ice. Growing up, paying rent, stuff like that was very new to me. So he helped me a lot when it came to stuff away from the rink.”
Jones is on pace to play in all 82 games. Should he reach that plateau, he would join Del Zotto as just the 17th player in NHL history to play at least 80 games as a teenage defenseman.
One feeling both Jones and Del Zotto shared is similar to one any young person would feel in arriving at a new workplace.
Being a 19-year-old surrounded by people who are mostly in their late-20s or 30s has the potential of leading to isolation. After all, what person in their right mind who is 27 years old would want to spend their time away from the rink with a teenager? Who would want to play video games and hang out with someone’s mom? It’s not exactly a fun time waiting to happen.
But Jones has become good friends with fellow defensemen Ryan Ellis, the 11th pick in the 2009 draft who is still just 22, and Mattias Ekholm, who is 23 years old. Jones and Ellis are also roommate on the road, and Jones said he hasn’t felt left out for a second despite the age gap with most of his teammates.
Ellis said he and Jones recently enjoy the movie Rush, the Chris Hemsworth race car flick directed by Ron Howard.
“It’s a pretty close team this year and obviously guys are going to hang out with certain guys,” Jones said. “I’m rooming with Elly this year and that’s been great. You know what? We’re getting along just fine. I hang out with Ekky a bit. Most of the young guys seem to stick together a bit and the older guys kind of do their own thing.
Del Zotto said he really benefited from joining a young Rangers team in 2009, but he definitely had his adjustment issues when he arrived in New York for rookie camp after he was drafted in 2008.
“I remember when I was 18 and first got drafted, I came here to train for a month and I was by myself and I was lost. That was a tough month for me,” Del Zotto said.
“We had a pretty young team my first year. It was great having younger guys around that made you feel like you were still a kid, which helped out a lot. Having Boyler with me made the transition easier and having someone around all the time making it feel like you’re not left out. All the guys around here made the transition that much easier.
“I’m sure (Jones) is going through the same thing. When you look over at their team, I’m sure they have some great leaders there that help him out, and I’m sure they’re making the transition a little bit easier.”
|The diminishing ice time of Seth Jones|
|Avg. ice time||25-minute games||Goals||Assists|
|First 10 games||24:35||6||2||2|
|Next 10 games||23:45||3||0||4|
|Past 10 games||22:51||2||1||1|
|NHL.com, through Monday|
Jones has had some expected struggles of late – he’s been a minus-player in 11 of his past 17 games and played a season-low nine minutes, 29 seconds in a 4-1 road win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday. But, according to ExtraSkater.com, he has still been able to maintain solid Corsi and Fenwick numbers despite facing stiff competition while playing on the team’s top pair at times.
With the off-ice stuff under control, Jones is free to focus on improving his on-ice game over the rest of the season.
“I think how many minutes is reflective of how I’m actually playing,” Jones said. “That’s usually how it works. I’m looking to get my minutes back up. I wouldn’t be happy with 12 minutes every night, but if that’s the case and I’m here, I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.