Well, it happened ... again.
Another member of the Blackhawks’ championship core is gone after Monday’s trade that sent Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers.
There’s been a lot to unpack with this news in the 24 hours since it first broke. With the reality of the situation setting in now, it’s time to explore the upside that comes with the key return in the trade.
Meet the newest member of the Chicago Blackhawks: Caleb Jones.
Who is Caleb Jones?
Jones is a 24-year-old, left-handed defenseman drafted in the 4th round (117th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He is the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, leading to immediate speculation that the Blackhawks may pursue a Jones’ brothers reunion with Seth reportedly on the trade block. Their father, by the way, is former NBA forward Ronald “Popeye” Jones.
Billed at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, the southpaw blueliner offers has nearly identical numbers in those categories to Keith (listed at 6-1, 192 for 2021). But what can he actually provide on the ice?
Over the course of three seasons with Edmonton, Jones tallied a total of 5 goals and 14 assists in 93 games. While this is a small sample size, it’s fair to say that he is not exactly an offensive powerhouse.
Jones’ career zone starts are a near 50-50 split and his share of shot attempts sit around the halfway point as well at 48.5 CF%. It should be mentioned here that the Oilers’ team defense is bad. Based on Jones’ individual numbers along with his performance seen on the game tape, he has the potential to be a more than serviceable player on the back-end for Chicago.
While the Hawks have faced their own defensive struggles, Jones usage in Edmonton was a bit different as the Oilers style of play revolved around the offensive juggernauts in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. With a limited average ice time of only 13:36 per game in 2021, Jones’ even-strength shot share percentage finished 50.42 while his expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) finished at 50.04 — both of those numbers above the team rates of 48.52 and 49.66, respectively.
What does this mean for the Blackhawks?
His numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, but they do pair nicely with what can be seen on his game tape, displaying a useable skill set. Jones is a good skater who can get to his spots and has been responsible in his own end. He can also help move the puck, push the play up the ice and has shown to decent stick work.
How Jones translates to the Blackhawks system will be interesting. Technically, he is one of the more capable players on the Hawks’ roster to use in a hybrid man-to-man scheme. He would likely excel playing zone, but that more than likely will not be the case next season. Having a big, right-handed stay-at-home type of partner — such as Connor Murphy — would work in theory, leaving Jones free to survey while having a reliable safety net as a D partner.
The Blackhawks group of blue-liners is heavy on lefties, which bodes well for Jones, along with Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell. This may be a season where the younger portion of the roster finally sees more ice time on the blue line, now that the ice-team leader (Keith, 23:25) is gone and Calvin de Haan appears destined for the expansion draft.
The Bottom Line
Although he is not an overwhelming talent, Jones has the potential to be a contributor on this Hawks roster, although likely towards the bottom of it. He has a nice skill set and is an improvement over some of the other options available to Chicago. Much of his success will depend on how he is used — a common theme these days, isn’t it?
While Jones is the player who was received in the trade for Duncan Keith, though, there’s no comparing the two. Jones’ arrival was due circumstances beyond his control but it’s now his turn to write his own story in Chicago.