Seth Jones changing stick flex, offensive approach heading into third Blackhawks season

As slap shots decline in prevalence around the NHL, Jones has yet again shifted to a whippier stick better suited for wrist shots. That’s one of several interesting storylines from his 2023 offseason.

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Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones takes a shot.

Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones has changed his stick flex twice over the past two years.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Seth Jones has learned to be flexible with the Blackhawks’ rebuilding timeline. Now, he has decided to make his stick more flexible, too.

For most of his career, Jones used a stick with a flex of 100, meaning it took 100 pounds of force to bend the stick one inch. Two years ago, he switched to a 95-flex. This summer, he switched again, moving down to a 90-flex.

As the veteran defenseman enters his 11th NHL season — and prepares for his 29th birthday a week before it starts — he believes this change will best suit his evolving shooting style.

“You get that whip and pop off your stick when you’re taking a snap shot [with a more flexible stick],” he said. “It just comes off a little bit quicker, and with a little less energy that you have to use.”

Some players enjoy studying league-wide trends; others don’t. Jones sits firmly in the former category. He has noticed how many of his peer defensemen are keeping their hands closer together on their sticks and prioritizing wrist shots more.

As it turns out, he has been doing the same. From 2016-17 to 2021 with the Blue Jackets, 29.2% of his shots on goal came from slap shots. In 2021-22 with the Hawks, that percentage dropped to 21.1%. Last season, it fell again to 17.4%.

“There really aren’t big bombs from the point anymore,” he said. “We use one-timers on the power play and that’s really it. You may get one or two one-timers a game. The main focus should really be five-on-five and trying to make the most out of your shots on 95% of your shifts.”

He aims to continue the scoring momentum he built late last season, when he potted 11 goals after New Year’s Day and finished the season with 12, tied for the second-most of his career.

On the other hand, he tallied just 25 assists — his assist-per-minute rate was his lowest since 2015-16 — and thus finished with 37 points in 72 games, falling short of his expectations.

That prompted him to do a full review of last season’s tape this summer and rethink his approach in the offensive zone, with feedback from both Hawks skills consultant Brian Keane and his personal skills coaches. One thing that stood out on video was that he often, when operating between the tops of the faceoff circles and the blue line, had more time and space than he realized in those moments.

“Depending how far away that guy is when I’m at the blue line, maybe I can make more plays out of that [position] — instead of just shooting it — by being a little more patient,” Jones said. “[I’m] just trying a couple moves. It’s hard to simulate in practice, but once you get that thought process down, it helps a lot.”

After taking about a month off from everything following last season’s finale in April, then another two weeks of working out but not skating, Jones has followed his typical training routine since June while at home in the Dallas area. That involves, by this point in August, skating four times per week.

Seth_2.jpg

Jones tallied 37 points in 72 games last season.

AP Photos

This summer has been different, though, in that his brother and workout partner, Caleb, is training alongside him to prepare for Hurricanes camp, not Hawks camp.

Seth is understandably displeased by the Hawks’ decision not to re-sign Caleb, leading to a long free-agency wait before he signed on Aug. 10 a one-year contract in Carolina. Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson called Seth to explain the decision after the fact, but not before, Seth said.

“I’m not sure what [the Hurricanes are] going to do — they have a lot of ‘D’ signed at the moment – but [Caleb has] a real chance at playoff hockey, which is something everyone wants,” he said. “Me and him had some good chemistry last year, and Chicago just wanted to go a different way and play some of the young defensemen that we have.”

This certainly isn’t the first move Davidson has made that has frustrated Jones, who came to Chicago in 2021 hoping to win. The constant losing last season — the first of his massive eight-year, $76 million extension — wore on him perhaps more than anybody.

But he has accepted the reality of what a long-term rebuild entails, and now those aforementioned young defensemen coming up the pipeline do provide some genuine optimism for the future — even if he is well aware of the incongruities between his and their timelines.

“Our ‘D’ core is very young, but there’s a lot of potential there,” Jones said. “Not just [Alex] Vlasic but [Isaak] Phillips and [Wyatt] Kaiser and some other guys. It’s going to be a very bright future for the Hawks. And hopefully it doesn’t take too long — I’m getting old.

“It’s nothing you can force, obviously. You have to let players develop. Wherever that takes the organization, that’s where it takes us.”

Top defensive prospect Kevin Korchinski will get a chance during camp and the season’s opening weeks to prove he’s ready for the NHL full-time, and he’ll likely play alongside Jones regularly during that period. Vlasic will receive ample experience in that first-pairing role, too. The Hawks will count on Jones to be their rock while they ease those rookies in.

Jones will also be expected to help mentor No. 1 selection Connor Bedard. They talked on the phone the night of the draft, then met in-person for the first time a few weeks ago, with Jones — as a former top-five pick himself — already imparting plenty of advice.

“It’s hard to change an organization overnight, and that’s unfair to ask of him,” he said. “Us in the [locker] room, we just want him to be comfortable, have fun this year and play his game.”

Other things Jones is looking forward to this season include reuniting with Nick Foligno, who became a close friend during their years together in Columbus, and experiencing the new Bedard-era United Center atmosphere.

But his biggest focus is on himself, of course, and he hopes the changes he made to his stick and his offensive-zone approach pay off.

“Obviously, the assist totals need to go up,” he said. “I need to put teammates in better spots and have a better vision when we do get our opportunities in the offensive zone. But I like the way I was scoring the puck the second half of the season, and I expect that to stay that way.”

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