A familiar name will be on the back of a Portland Winterhawks sweater next season. Caleb Jones is set to play for the WHL franchise just as his brother, Nashville Predators defenceman Seth Jones, did two years ago.
The 6-foot, 194-pound rearguard did inevitably consult his brother when deciding whether to go down the major junior or college route, but he made his own decision. He decided the WHL was the best fit for his development because of the extensive 72-game schedule and the league’s track record at getting players to the next level.
“I talked to him (Seth) about it a little bit to see what he thought,” says Jones, whom the Edmonton Oilers selected 117th overall in the 2015 NHL draft. “He told me what to expect in the WHL and how everything works. But he was supportive of whatever decision I made and knows both routes (WHL and NCAA) are good routes. I decided the WHL was my best option because of the amount of games in the schedule and how it’s second to none at developing NHL prospects.”
Jones has drawn comparisons to his brother for obvious reasons. The differences between the two, however, clearly show the comparison is forced because of bloodlines. The younger Jones is quite a bit smaller (four inches), was drafted 113 spots later and doesn’t possess as much offensive talent as his older brother. He is more of a role player while Seth was the top defender selected in his draft class.
From the Arlington, TX., native’s point of view, he’s growing tired of hearing about the comparison. He would rather not have a comparison or his sibling’s accomplishments attached to his name because he simply wants to be known for his on-ice abilities.
“The comparisons can get annoying,” says Jones. “I’m honoured to have a brother who is playing in the NHL and a great family like I have, but I want to be known just as Caleb Jones, a good hockey player. I don’t want to be known as the young brother of Seth Jones or known as the son of an NBA player (Popeye Jones). I want to be talked about for what I do on the ice.”
It’s not as though Jones hasn’t made a name for himself in the hockey world. He played a solid two-way game on the U.S. National Development Program last year while racking up six goals and 24 points in 65 games. But Portland will be an even bigger opportunity for him to develop an esteemed reputation as a young defenceman. He should receive the opportunity to play big minutes straight out of the gate because Portland graduated multiple impact blueliners, including Vancouver Canucks prospect Anton Cederholm, this off-season.
"While it will be his rookie season in the WHL, we anticipate Caleb will bring leadership to our defense,” says Winterhawks GM-head coach Jamie Kompon. “Caleb has tremendous experience with the U.S. National Team Development Program and he's represented his country in international play. That kind of experience will be important as we graduate four defencemen from last season.”
On top of wanting to make an impact in Portland, Jones, 18, is eying a spot on Team USA’s world junior team next year. It’s a dream that seems to have good odds of becoming a reality, as he has already represented his country at U18 and U17 tournaments.
“I want to be a top-four defenceman next year and be an impact player for Portland,” says Jones, who possesses a tireless motor and plays with an edge. “Playing on (USA’s) world junior team is also a big goal of mine. I played at the NTDP the last two years and would love to represent my country in the world juniors.”
Following a year or two in Portland, Jones is expected to move on to the Oilers organization. He knows he has the potential to be a part of something special with Edmonton having Connor McDavid as its foundational piece.
“It was a surreal feeling (when Edmonton drafted me),” he says. “I was on the top of the world when I saw they drafted me. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and it was an honour to be drafted by a world-class organization. They are a good young team and have a bright future and a great history as well. And to be drafted in the same draft and by the same team as Connor McDavid – that’s pretty special.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen