Highly touted defenseman Seth Jones signed an entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, adding another twist to what has been a very eventful year for him.
Jones spent last season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League and was regarded as the top prospect for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft for the overwhelming majority of the year. He fell to Nashville at fourth overall in the draft, and has now signed an entry-level deal that will almost certainly mean that he will start the 2013-14 season in the NHL with the Predators and help form what could be one of the top defensive teams in the league.
“This has kind of been a long chapter in the book,” Jones said. “I kind of put this whole year, and then the combine, draft and this, in one chapter. This is kind of the end of that chapter I think, and I’m very excited for it to be over now and I can just focus on hockey a little bit more and train and get better.”
Now that the deal has been signed and some of the fanfare from the draft is starting to die down, Jones is in position to turn his attention to squarely focusing on hockey without having to worry about the overwhelming media attention that has followed almost his every move for the past month.
“There will still be media along the way, but there won’t be near as much. I’m a hockey player. That’s what I want to do. I just want to get on the ice and play, so I think I’m one step closer to being there,” Jones said.
So what is next for Jones? He’s about to enter an environment where he will be expected to contribute very early on at the highest level at just 18 years of age. That’s a lot of pressure for a young kid to live up to, but there is a reason the Predators were willing to draft him and willing to sign him to an entry-level deal at an early age.
Jones’ talent is evident. He’s really the complete package as a defenseman. He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got a good shot and he looks so smooth when he’s skating. It’s almost like it’s completely effortless for him. But one of the biggest attributes that has gotten Jones to this point, according to his father and former NBA player Popeye Jones, is how hard he works. The entry-level contract that Jones signed on Wednesday was just as much a testament to his hard work as it was his talent.
“It’s just another step to reaching his goal of playing in the National Hockey League,” Popeye said. “To me, I know the work will continue. That’s what I told him when he got drafted. I saw him after the draft and I said ‘All the cameras will be gone and now the work will start. It’s time to set some goals and try to reach those.”
Work ethic has been a big point of emphasis for Jones in all aspects of his life, and it’s something that he learned from his father. Popeye played in the NBA, and was a bit of a journeyman. He couldn’t get by on talent alone, so he did his best to outwork the opponent. That attribute of a strong work ethic has rubbed off on Jones, and it’s something that will be extremely important for him as he moves forward with his NHL career.
“That’s huge. It’s always been huge. Not only in hockey, but in my house it’s huge with education. To have extreme work habits and to be the best that you can be,” Popeye said. “I think we’re all blessed with different talents. For example, as a basketball player I knew I’d never be as good as Michael Jordan, but you know what I worked just as hard as Michael Jordan. I think we’re all blessed with a lot of different talents. He’s obviously blessed with a lot of talent in hockey and you take that talent with a huge work habit, you can really be successful.”
Jones still has to finish the rest of development camp with the Predators this week, and then he’ll shift his attention to preparing for training camp that starts in September. While the hype may make it seem like Jones has no weakness in his game, he knows he still has a lot of work to do to prepare himself to play hockey at the highest level in the world.
“Physical strength is always something you can work on. I think I’ve got to get a little bigger to play at that level, but also mentally. It’s a tough sport to play mentally. You’ve got back-to-backs some nights and your body’s aching, and you’ve got to really take care of your body as well. Both physically and mentally you have to be ready by training camp,” Jones said.
The last year or so has been a whirlwind for Jones. He’s played a whole lot of hockey, and he’s received a whole lot of attention. With the signing of his entry-level contract, the next chapter of his career has begun. His maturity and determination to succeed suggest that the next chapter of his career is going to be a mighty successful one.