Seth Jones is having a solid year. And it'll need to get even better, quick.
Zach Werenski, Jones' usual defensive partner for the last four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, is out with an upper-body injury for the next month. This team is known for its defensive depth, but the top-tier defensemen on the team are clearly Jones and Werenski.
Get past those two, and you have another solid four to six players, but none of which would be considered all-stars like Jones and Werenski.
This all to say that Jones is the lone elite piece of a blue line that the Blue Jackets can currently bolster. And with Markus Nutivaara still out with an upper-body injury of his own, that defensive unit is even more hobbled.
Head coach John Tortorella sees the opportunity for Jones with Werenski out, though. Obviously losing No. 8 isn't ideal (who is third on the team in scoring), but Jones has a real chance to shine now in the month of December with the spotlight on him.
"I think his game has been coming, there's no question, said Tortorella on 'Timeout with Torts' with Bob McElligot on Tuesday. "Jonesy has been a good player for us, but good isn't good enough for him, because he's that good...He'll probably readily admit it, too - he hasn't been to the level we've seen him play at. He's getting there."
In the minds of most in the hockey world, Jones is having an all-star worthy season for the Blue Jackets. His 15 points on three goals and 12 assists through 26 games are on pace for 47, which would be the second-highest of his career.
However, it's also ten points back of that career-high from two seasons ago of 57, when he landed fourth in the Norris-Trophy voting. He's also tied for just 29th in points amongst all defensemen in the league right now.
Jones is known for his all-around game though, so his impact on the scoresheet doesn't tell the tale of his total value. He is in the top ten in blocked shots right now in the NHL, and sixth in ice time per game. This underlying impact misses on the headlines, and Tortorella knows it full well.
"He is a great player and someone I think has not been given enough notice as far as what he does on both ends of the ice," said Tortorella. "I think his game is getting better, I think the (New York) Islanders game helped him because h knew he had to carry the rope even more."
It's true, Jones has been solid this season. But the standard of the level he is expected to play at is continuing to rise. Mid-40 point seasons won't cut it anymore. Jones should be clipping high 50's and 60's and getting into the Norris top-three for the next six-seven seasons. His 2017-2018 campaign proves he is capable of this and more.
"(With Werenski out), (Jones) now has even more responsibility. I think he wants that. I think that'll get him to the level we need him to be that," said Tortorella.
December should be the month of Seth Jones for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Let's see how the young alternate captain does with his new responsibility.
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