On July 12th, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Caleb Jones and a third round draft pick. But because of the deservedly enormous farewell to Keith and the potential implications on SETH Jones, Caleb’s brother, we haven’t really dug into the primary return, himself. In other words, we haven’t answered the question What Does Caleb Jones Bring to the Blackhawks? So … here we go.
Jones was a fourth-round pick by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft after playing with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He then played two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, the same Canadian Junior team his older brother Seth played at before being drafted by the Nashville Predators. He also won Gold Medals with Team USA at the 2015 U18 World Junior Championships and 2017 World Junior Championships.
Since leaving the WHL and making his full professional debut during the 2017-18 season, Jones has bounced between the NHL and AHL with the Oilers organization, playing in 125 game with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL and 93 games with Edmonton in the NHL. Jones had 13 points in 76 NHL games split over the past two seasons with the Oilers, averaging just under 14-minutes per game over the past two seasons.
In his first media availability with the Blackhawks, Caleb spoke about how he learned of the trade and described his initial response:
Caleb Jones on trade: "It's a funny moment. I was playing NBA 2K, and I got a quick text from someone saying, 'Whoa is that true?' And I didn't know what they were talking about. I went on social media and it'd happened just that quick, and then I started getting phone calls." pic.twitter.com/2IqT2P4yD4
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) July 13, 2021
Talk about a rude way to interrupt a game of NBA 2K.
Jones, 24, also discussed the possibility of playing with his older brother, if the Blackhawks (who are currently the front-runners) were to end up acquiring him.
Caleb Jones on the possibility of playing with his brother Seth: "He's kind of got his own situation going on there, so we'll see what happens with the summer with that. If it did ever happen, it would be really fun and we'd both really enjoy it. It'd be cool."
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) July 13, 2021
Following the Duncan Keith trade on Monday, Blackhawks President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman gave his thoughts on both players leaving, having this to say about the incoming Jones…
Bowman on Caleb Jones: "A smooth skating, versatile defenseman who brings a well-rounded game to the Blackhawks. Caleb transitions the puck nicely with his legs or through outlet passes… We believe his best hockey is in front of him."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) July 12, 2021
From the Outside
Allan Mitchell (The Athletic, TSN1260 in Edmonton) had this to say on Jones’ time in the NHL with the Oilers:
Jones has played parts of three seasons in the NHL with Edmonton, never more than 43 games, but in two of those campaigns, he played more than half of the schedule. His speed, passing and puck transporting were all on display, and the coverage had highs and lows under coaches Ken Hitchock and Dave Tippett. He was strictly a third-pair player in terms of five-on-five minutes in each season. That’s a comfortable way for a young defender to ease into the world’s best league.
The Oilers have a decent among of talent in their organization defensively, even before the addition of Keith. With Darnell Nurse, Oscar Kelfbom (healthy at the time), Adam Larson, Kris Russell, Ethan Bear, and Dimitri Kulikov at the NHL level, with Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard coming up from the prospect system, Jones became squeezed out of playing time and had a short leash in Edmonton during the 2020-21 season.
A change of scenery in Chicago should give Jones the opportunity to play regular minutes in a more-prominent role with the Blackhawks. Even with less than 100 NHL games under his belt, Jones would be one of the more seasoned defensemen in the group with only Calvin de Haan, Nikita Zadorov, and Connor Murphy playing more NHL games. Even at that, it is possible Zadorov and/or de Haan are not with the Blackhawks to start next season.
Is Jones’ potential going to be a top-pairing defenseman? I wouldn’t hold your breath. But could he step into the Blackhawks’ blue-line rotation and play a decent role as their No. 4/5 defenseman? It’s probable. If Chicago does actually acquire his older brother, maybe Caleb is then made into the Blackhawks’ No. 5/6 defenseman and can be effective in a 15-minute per night role.
For a young player needing as many minutes as he can get, the Blackhawks are likely going to be able to provide that to Jones, alongside their group of young breakout players from last season.