Caleb Jones and older brother Seth Jones have been training together in Dallas for a month already this summer.
So when Caleb, 24, was acquired Monday by the Blackhawks — the news of which unexpectedly interrupted a friendly NBA 2K game — Seth, 26, surely knew immediately.
Seth also surely knows about the Hawks’ interest in him, being arguably the summer’s biggest trade target as the Blue Jackets try to recoup assets for their departing cornerstone. (With his contract expiring next summer, Seth has reportedly told Jackets management he doesn’t plan to re-sign.)
There’s some speculation Hawks general manager Stan Bowman — when negotiating the trade with Oilers GM Ken Holland — not only had the primary motivation of granting Duncan Keith’s Canadian trade request but also a secondary goal of landing Caleb specifically to lure Seth.
But Caleb, in his introductory Hawks interview Tuesday, kept calm about the Jones family’s interest in a reunion.
“I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a dream,” he said. “We both just wanted to play in the NHL, like a lot of kids growing up. Once we were fortunate enough — both of us — to get there, it [has] popped up a few times. I’ve actually never even played against him, so I’ve been looking for that day to come.
“He’s got his own situation going on over there, so we’ll see what happens throughout the summer with that. But if it ever did happen, it’d be really fun, and we’d both enjoy it.”
No matter how the Hawks’ offseason pursuit of an experienced No. 1 defenseman pans out, though, they view Caleb Jones as someone who could improve the retooling defense and improve himself with more ice time.
During his three seasons with the Oilers, Jones particularly excelled along the defensive blue line — an area where the Hawks particularly floundered — at executing zone exits and defending opponents’ zone entries, for example.
Jones’ overall play dipped in 2021, though. With an even-strength scoring-chance ratio of 44.4% (down from 54.2% and 47.0% in his first two seasons) and only four points in 33 games, the Oilers began considering him expendable. But he’s young enough that he believes he can learn from it.
“A lot of my struggles came from being inconsistent,” he said. “The biggest thing for me [is] mentally, if I make a mistake, flushing it away and getting back out there and continuing to play the same way I do. That’s a growing process I had to go through last year, but I’ll be better for it in the future.”
During his summer training — this being the fifth or sixth consecutive year during which he has done it with Seth, he estimated — he’s focusing on keeping his head up more. He hopes that’ll help him better see “what plays I can make [and] what’s going on,” giving him more opportunities to use the other two skills he’s prioritizing this summer: skating and shooting.
Come September training camp, the Hawks will discover where Jones — with or without his brother — fits into their rapidly evolving defense. Jones hopes they’ll like what they find.
“I believe I can be a really good player,” he said. “A fresh start will be good for me, and I believe there’s a good opportunity in Chicago.”