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New Blackhawks centerpiece Seth Jones willing to earn Chicago’s favor patiently

“I just want to prove every single night that I’m going to work hard for this team,” Jones said Saturday, one day after his blockbuster trade to the Hawks.

New Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones was introduced on a Chicago River cruise Saturday.
Ben Pope/Sun-Times

The early-afternoon sun baked defenseman Seth Jones as he sat atop a tour boat Saturday, cruising east on the Chicago River.

His casual black T-shirt and athletic shorts belied the fact he had agreed less than 24 hours earlier to an eight-year, $76 million contract, one that presumably will make him a staple of the Blackhawks for almost a decade to come. Passersby on other boats waved because of drunkenness, not because they appeared to recognized Chicago’s newest big-name athlete.

‘‘I didn’t realize it gets this hot in Chicago in the summer, to be honest,’’ he said.

Indeed, despite his household-name status in the NHL world, Jones never has been a stereotypically flamboyant superstar.

For one thing, he never has had the opportunity. One of three hockey-playing sons of former NBA player and current 76ers assistant ‘‘Popeye’’ Jones, he was raised in Dallas and spent his entire NHL career — until this weekend — in Nashville and Columbus. He ‘‘kind of grew up’’ during his six-year run with the Blue Jackets, a team well-shielded from the big-market heat.

But it’s also because of his relatively introverted personality. He watches and listens first, then talks later.

He has social media but admitted he doesn’t use it — ‘‘My mom checks it a lot more,’’ he joked — and doesn’t exhibit showmanship like Patrick Kane, leadership like Jonathan Toews or intimidation like Duncan Keith. Younger brother Caleb, whom the Hawks acquired from the Oilers earlier this summer, expects him to ‘‘mostly lead by example.’’

‘‘If something needs to be said, he’ll probably say it, but he’s going to be more of a quiet guy,’’ Caleb said.

Brothers Caleb (left, No. 82) and Seth Jones (right, No. 4) will both be important members of the Blackhawks’ defense in 2021-22.
Ben Pope/Sun-Times

Jones’ calmness, however, shouldn’t be confused with a lack of assertiveness. He might join the Hawks unaccustomed to Chicago’s sports environment (and weather), but he’s confident he can be the No. 1 defenseman they desperately need.

‘‘[I bring] just a little bit of experience,’’ he said. ‘‘Hopefully guys can learn from me. And I’m still learning. I’m 26 going on 27, so by no means have I hit my peak.’’

The idea that, even entering his ninth NHL season, Jones hasn’t yet peaked was fundamental to the Hawks’ decision to acquire him.

‘‘Seth is just entering his prime years,’’ general manager Stan Bowman said Friday. ‘‘He hasn’t even really hit his top stride quite yet.’’

‘‘Offensively, I can get a little bit better,’’ Jones said Saturday. ‘‘I’ve been really focusing on that the past few summers. When I get chances to put the puck in the net, [I want to] capitalize on those opportunities.’’

His massive contract — which will make him the NHL’s third-highest-paid defenseman in 2022-23 — is similarly structured to the one Brent Seabrook signed in 2016, with so much of its value loaded into annual signing bonuses that a buyout never will be viable.

For the Hawks’ sake, Jones’ next eight years need to mirror Seabrook’s 2007-to-2015 dominance, not his 2016-to-2021 decline.

He must provide elite results for the Hawks’ financial commitment and trade expense (Adam Boqvist and two first-round picks, among other assets) to prove worthwhile. Bowman, at least, unequivocally thinks he can — and will.

‘‘He’s got all the attributes that you look for in the modern defenseman with his skating, his size, his defensive ability,’’ Bowman said Friday. ‘‘He’s one of these players who’s not locked in as just an offensive guy. He can defend. He can also transport the puck. He’s got the size to be able to match up against really strong forwards, but he has skating to defend quick players, as well. He’s really someone that can do everything.’’

Jones’ unquestionably — albeit also uncharacteristically — poor results during the 2021 season make Bowman’s description of him seem optimistic at best and outright wrong at worst.

And Jones is willing to ‘‘roll with’’ that skepticism for now. He’s not programmed to take Chicago by storm but rather hopes he patiently can win the city over.

‘‘Some of [the criticisms] are wrong,’’ he said. ‘‘Some of them aren’t, and I’ll be the first one to say that.

‘‘I just want to prove every single night that I’m going to work hard for this team, no matter if I make a mistake or not. But more times than not, I’m hoping to be successful in the plays I make and the consistency, the leadership I bring every night.’’