CALGARY, Alberta — Everything about defenseman Seth Jones’ arrival to the Blackhawks this summer invited scrutiny.
The blockbuster trade. The massive contract. The introductory news conference on a boat in the Chicago River. The Hawks’ promotion of him as the savior their long-struggling defense needed.
Even Jones’ history as an involuntary focal point in the analytics debate — analytics often have disagreed with the so-called “eye test” with regard to whether Jones is an elite defenseman — has followed him around.
But through his first two months on the Hawks, Jones has scrutinized himself far more than anyone else. He has been his own harshest critic.
Here’s Jones from Oct. 7, evaluating his training camp: “I haven’t played my best in the preseason, which is kind of unfortunate. Offensively, I’ve been decent. But defensively, [there have been] just some mistakes, some things . . . I need to clean up.”
Here’s Jones from Nov. 3, in the waning days of Jeremy Colliton’s coaching tenure: “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot. ... That’s what you see happening through these first 10 games. We’re beating ourselves.”
And here’s Jones after the Hawks’ victory Sunday against the Canucks: “My second period was garbage. I turned the puck over a lot. [Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury] made a lot of big saves for me, and the team got back for me.”
Jones certainly hasn’t been perfect. He has made some eye-catching mistakes. His blue-line defense has left something to be desired because his loose gap surrenders zone entries too easily at times.
His analytics have been a mixed bag again this season, too. At even strength, his shot-attempt ratio is the fourth-best on the team at 48.3%. His expected-goals ratio, however, is all the way down at 42.8%.
But based on the aforementioned “eye test” — as incomplete as that might be — Jones has been pretty good. He at least has been better than his own evaluations.
In the defensive zone, his size and reach allow him to break up plays and block passing lanes. In the offensive zone, he’s a constant scoring threat: His 15 points this season (two goals, 13 assists) were tied for sixth in the league among defensemen entering play Tuesday.
And his impact in transition has been most positive of all. One way the Hawks can mitigate their defensive deficiencies is by spending less time in their own zone, and Jones’ ability to keep his head up and find forwards to move the play in the other direction really helps.
“You play 25 [to] 30 minutes a game, there are going to be mistakes; that’s just the way it is,” interim coach Derek King said Tuesday. “He’s been doing some real good things for us. He’s moving his feet, his positioning is great and [he’s] running that power play up top.”
“All year, frankly, he’s been rock-solid,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “He’s really good in the defensive zone. He’s got great feet, especially for how big he is. [And he’s] getting up and creating in the offensive zone . . . creating shots up there and distributing the puck properly.”
Jones likely knows most of that. He holds himself to such high standards for a reason.
But in a role that entails so much external pressure, his honesty is refreshing. It couldn’t be more different than the previous occupant of the Hawks’ No. 1 defenseman role, Duncan Keith, who had similar internal drive but none of the same willingness to share when he was dissatisfied.
“I’ve got to limit the big mistakes I make, find a little bit more consistency,” Jones said. “Offensively, you can always look at numbers, [and] the numbers are there.
“But it’s the little details of the game that I look at the most, which is how I am on breakouts, how I’m reading their forechecks in the neutral zone, if I’m moving my feet — things like that.”