With the conclusion of the Blackhawks' regular season, our focus shifts to what the players, coaches, and front office members have in store for the offseason. For three Blackhawks: Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, and Sam Lafferty, their offseason will begin with participation in the 2022 IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championship.
I think this is a fantastic opportunity for these players. For Caleb Jones and Lafferty, it's an opportunity to continue sharpening their tools and honing their skills. For Seth Jones, it's an opportunity to see how the "leadership" role fits him before heading into a full fledged rebuild as one of the key stars on the team.
Yes, you can agree that the haul given for Seth Jones and the money offered him in his contract were way overblown and that former GM Stan Bowman should never have placed that many eggs in one basket. But you cannot deny that Seth Jones is a top defenseman in the NHL. He belongs. He performs. He can't help it that he was overvalued. So, at this point, focus on how he can help the team as a leader and star defenseman going forward.
This year, Seth Jones got off to a rough start and then had a tumultuous December as well. At times, it was hard to argue that he was a top defenseman. But looking back now, you can see how his play and his stats support the idea that he, indeed, belongs.
He ended the season with 51 points, the second-highest mark in his career. He eclipsed his career high in blocks by a wide margin with 155 this year (previous high was 133), 99 hits (3rd highest career total), and 34 takeaways (4th highest career total). This was all in the midst of a fairly disappointing year. When he is able to operate without the off-ice distractions and coaching changes (also an unsustainably abysmal shot percentage), He will open the eyes of many Blackhawks fans.
Having a chance to refine leadership skills at the IIHF Championship, he will hopefully be able to carry over those characteristics to the Blackhawks as well. They'll need it for the future.
As for Caleb Jones, he had his best season of his career so far. There is a lot of upside that can be seen with him and he is only 24. Having competitive playing time in the IIHF Championship will help him to continue to develop those skills. Caleb Jones is nearing the age of "prime years" and hopefully, he will be ready to be an upper echelon defender by that time. Competing this spring is a key in that development. His line this year read a string of career-highs: 15 points, 58 blocks, 17 hits, and 17 takeaways in 51 games played. There is real potential there. Let's see if the IIHF Championship can unlock it.
Lastly, Sam Lafferty had a surprising season. He came over to the Blackhawks mid-season as a part of the Alex Nylander trade with Pittsburgh. In 46 games with the team, Lafferty finished with 11 total points (5 G, 6 A), especially coming on strong towards the end of the season, and had a faceoff win percentage of 42.0 in an average of 14:38 minutes of ice time. Definitely not stellar numbers, but ample enough for the Blackhawks to resign him as a fourth line center. Similar to Caleb Jones, with the potential he showed, increased playing time in a competitive setting will only help further develop the 26 year old.
I am eager to see what steps forward the Jones brothers and Lafferty are able to take this spring. I'm sure we will see that impact on the ice with the Blackhawks next fall.