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He's growing by the minutes

Preds rookie Jones just needed break in ice-time load

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There was a little flapping and flailing and gasping for air, but on the whole, Nashville Predators' Seth Jones has stayed afloat as a 19-year-old rookie defenceman in the deep end of the unforgiving NHL.

The fourth pick of last summer's draft, Jones stepped right into the reconstruction job that was the Predators' lineup and immediately played mega-minutes.

He had 11 games of more than 25 minutes a night in the season's first two months, causing Preds coach Barry Trotz to start dialing things back.

"This league is unforgiving when it comes to the grind of the game, the intelligence of the players and intensity and the battle skills of some of the guys," Trotz said Monday at the MTS Centre, where Nashville meets the Winnipeg Jets tonight at 7 p.m. (TSNJets, TSN1290).

"For a 19-year-old, I think he hit a little bit of a wall. I think it showed in his play -- a little bit slow, and he was turning some pucks over and it was just too much too early, and a little bit of it was roster-related.

"So we reined it right to around 12 a game. We wanted to bring him back into that 12-to-15-minute group, which is usually your third pair, and limit him just to power-play and five-on-five. It refreshed him a little bit, and now he's in the low 20s most nights.

'It's exciting to see him and he's doing so well. Every time I turn on the highlights of the games, I'm watching him do something spectacular out there and he's making things happen. So that's great to see'

-- Seth Jones, on his former teammate, Jets rookie Jacob Trouba

"For a 19-year-old, that's a lot of minutes and a lot of responsibility."

When defenceman Roman Josi missed 10 of the season's first 12 games, it pressed Jones into more duty.

"There were about 10, 15 games there and I think I'm playing pretty good hockey right now," Jones said Monday. "I think I caught myself doing a little too much at times, trying to make things happen instead of waiting for it and reading the play.

"Consistency is the most important thing, and I'm looking to finish the year strong."

Trotz is unlike many coaches who waffle or obfuscate on just about any question, including the colour of the sky.

He's direct, and in Jones's case, pointing out a few faults and errors actually explains the challenge and enhances the enthusiasm he has for the rookie.

"On this trip, against the Vancouver Canucks (a 2-1 win), I thought he was 29," Trotz said. "And then against Calgary (a 5-4 shootout loss), he had a couple of shifts, he looked all of 19. Those are the learning curves that as a coach, you have to just live with. Sometimes they're routine plays that end up in your net.

"And that's just a growing process. It's easier to hide the forwards than the defencemen. He's been terrific, going to be a top player for a number of years. He's got lots of confidence and has no trouble jumping up or carrying the play.

"At times, he, as a 19-year-old, doesn't always recognize danger. As a mature player, you recognize green light and red light, and once in a while he won't recognize danger.

"But he's a bright young man on and off the ice."

Jones, who has four goals and 19 points despite a minus-18 through 54 games, said he knew there would be nothing easy about the NHL.

"I knew what it would take to come and play a full season," he said. "The travel is pretty hectic. You're always on the go, on the move. Especially with the Olympic break, all the games are pretty condensed around this time right now.

"There aren't many days off. You're playing a lot of games, but you get into a nice rhythm, I think."

He said Monday he's eager to be on the same ice today, for the first time in the NHL, as his good friend and former U.S. national development team teammate Jacob Trouba of the Jets.

(Both are 19, but Jones was in the 2013 draft because his birthday, Oct. 3, falls after Sept. 15.)

The two had dinner together earlier in the season when Trouba was out with his neck injury and they frequently exchange texts.

"It's exciting to see him and he's doing so well," Jones said. "Every time I turn on the highlights of the games, I'm watching him do something spectacular out there and he's making things happen. So that's great to see."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 C2

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