In the opposites-attract combination of Seth Jones and Calvin de Haan, the Blackhawks have found the versatile, consistent top defensive pair they’ve been longing for.
Jones’ dynamic skill — highlighted by his ability to control the puck, his vision to determine the best thing to do with it and his skating and athleticism to successfully do whatever he decides — has lived up to its elite billing during his first few months with the Hawks.
De Haan’s defensive reliability — headlined by his long reach, solid positioning and ability to win back pucks consistently — hasn’t been hindered by injuries so far this season.
And Jones’ skill and de Haan’s reliability have proven to complement each other very well on the Hawks’ top pair.
“They’re good,” interim coach Derek King said this week. “Anybody who plays with Seth Jones is going to be good, [but de Haan is] a calm presence back there. He backs them up well. [They have] good communication on the ice — they’re always talking on the ice during practice, making sure they’re on the same page.”
Having already logged nearly 302 even-strength minutes together through 28 games — 28th-most in the NHL — they’re on pace for about 880 minutes this year. That would make them the most frequently appearing Hawks ‘D’ pair over a full season since Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2015-16 (926 minutes together).
On the surface, their results together are decent but unspectacular. They sport a 46.7% shot-attempt ratio and 44.3% scoring chance ratio this season, although those numbers rise to 47.4% and an impressive 50.8%, respectively, when narrowing the sample to King’s tenure only.
Where the pair really shines statistically, however, is in analyst Corey Sznajder’s data on zone exits. It demonstrates why they work so well together: de Haan regularly gets the puck back in Hawks possession, and Jones regularly pushes that possession up the ice.
De Haan ranks 11th among all NHL defensemen in defensive zone puck retrievals per minute and leads all defensemen — ranking just ahead of Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and Boston’s Charlie MacAvoy — in such retrievals that lead to zone exits, per Sznajder.
Jones, meanwhile, is tied for third among defensemen — behind only Colorado’s Cale Makar and Boston’s Mike Reilly — in the percent of defensive zone exits completed with possession, at 92.0%.
“I just try to be a reliable, solid partner out there and try to make the right play . . . and help him be the best player he can be,” de Haan said. “He’s doing the same for me, as well. We’ve become predictable to each other.”
Offensively, Jones has been single-handedly carrying the load. He ranks ninth among defenseman with 23 points, trailing Patrick Kane by one for the team lead. De Haan, conversely, remains stuck on zero points.
But Jones has improved with not sacrificing defense to try to score — and using de Haan’s conservative tendencies to ensure that.
“The main thing [I’ve focused on] . . . are my reads on breakouts,” Jones said recently. “I’ve gotten better as the season has gone on of really understanding when to jump [into the rush], and how to jump, and in what situations, and not just go just to go. If there’s an odd-man rush, I need to pick my spots a little bit better offensively and not give up so much defensively.”
King often heaps praise on Jones, calling him “by far been our most consistent, probably our best player” last week and saying Wednesday he’s the “one guy who’s not coming out” of the lineup under any circumstances. He’s undoubtedly the star who makes this pair click.
Nonetheless, the pair’s collective success has provided valuable consistency to the whole team.
“We started to gel pretty early,” de Haan said. “I hope that can continue for the rest of this season. He’s a great player to play with.”