Jones launches Preds career at prospects camp

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Seth Jones knew all eyes were on him Tuesday morning during the first day of Nashville Predators development camp.

Oh sure, some 30 or so prospects hit the ice and will also go through various off-ice rigors this week at Centennial Sportsplex, but it was the new kid on the block who attracted the most attention.

After all, the franchise’s recent first-round pick (No. 4 overall) has a heaping handful of expectations being placed upon him from the get-go.

“It felt awesome,” Jones said of skating for the first time while donning a Predators uniform. “It feels like a dream come true. It’s just another step in making it to the NHL.”

Those steps along the way included NHL Central Scouting, among others, grading the 18-year-old defenseman as the top prospect in last week’s NHL draft. When he fell to the fourth spot, the Predators excitedly drafted him.

“You just want to keep an even keel,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz, regarding the team’s planned approach with Jones this week and for training camp in September.

“It’s easy to get excited and all that,” he added. “He’s a foundation-type player that will be a foundation-type guy for us for a number of years. You just keep everything in perspective.”

Jones, who turns 19 on Oct. 3, is expected to make the Predators’ opening day roster out of training camp and be a key contributor along a deep and talented blue line. If not, then he must spend another year in junior hockey, where he led all Western Hockey League defensemen in points last season (14 goals, 42 assists), while playing for the Portland (Ore.) Winterhawks.

“I know it’s tough to make it to the NHL,” said Jones, who scored seven points (one goal, six assists) while guiding Team USA to the gold medal in last winter’s World Junior Championships in Russia. “I am trying to impress the coaching staff and the rest of the staff here. I know it’s development camp, and we’re all trying to do the same thing.”

Jones also knows the Predators are known for developing defensemen, including all-star and team captain Shea Weber and former Predator Ryan Suter, now with Minnesota. When Suter departed for the Wild via free agency last summer, the Predators bumped Roman Josi up to the top pairing (with Weber).

In essence, the Predators replaced Suter with Josi, but weren’t able to fill the hole left by Josi’s promotion. Early projections have Jones playing on the third defensive line with fellow rookie Mattias Ekholm, while veteran Kevin Klein and second-year Victor Bartley could skate together on the No. 2 pairing.

Inasmuch, the Predators recently released a pair of defensemen, steady veteran Hal Gill and inconsistent Jonathon Blum.

“I know that I have to perform to the best that I can,” said Jones, a Dallas resident and son of former NBA player and coach Popeye Jones. “And hopefully, I am given an opportunity to do that here in Nashville next (season). But I have to earn it first.

“I have to go into training camp and earn my spot. I know nothing is given at this level. If somebody is playing better than you at the time, then they are going to get the spot over you.”

Because of his upbringing in a family that had a professional athlete and coach as its patriarch, Trotz feels Jones is well ahead of the curve when dealing with all aspects that go into being a professional at the highest level of sports.

“Like dealing with the media and being in the spotlight a little bit more, you can see a guy like Seth, he has grown up around that type of climate,” Trotz said. “He is probably a lot more comfortable with that, and he’s probably a lot more familiar with some of the pitfalls of fame and fortune, if you will.

“If you have someone who is from northern Manitoba and their first time coming to Nashville and development camp and all that, it might be a little bit daunting.”

Although he was too young to see his father play most of his 11-year NBA career, Jones understands what goes into the life of being a professional athlete. His father, who played at Murray State University and hails from nearby Dresden, Tenn., was an assistant coach the past three seasons with the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets.

“You know how to act like a pro,” Jones said of what he learned from his father. “You watch him go on the road constantly and how he eats and how he takes care of himself, habits, all sorts of things.

“Any time you can take good advice or learn from his actions, that’s always great. It’s always tough work. To play at the top level, you are going to have to work hard.”

Which brings Jones back to Tuesday and his first taste of the NHL.

“It is everything that I have heard,” said Jones of joining the Predators. “Everyone is Grade-A class. It’s a very good organization to be a part of.”

But will Jones make the Predators’ roster out of training camp? Just after his first glimpses of watching Jones on the ice in person, Trotz said he liked what he saw.

“You see a lot of players over my career that you know that they have gone on to have careers and all that,” Trotz said, “and they carry themselves a certain way. I can’t explain it. You just see it. He’s still like any 18-year-old. He’s going to go through a process of trying to get better. And that’s what this camp is about.”