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NHL’s best players under age 25 for 2017: Seth Jones comes in No. 18 after big season

It took Jones a few years, but he’s gone from top draft pick to top-pairing defenseman.

Los Angeles Kings v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Note: This is SB Nation NHL’s top 25 players under age 25 series! We’ll be covering each player from No. 25 to No. 1 over the next few weeks leading up to training camp time. See the complete list and information on how the rankings were compiled.

There’s definitely not another player in the NHL like the Seth Jones. The No. 3 overall pick from the 2013 NHL Draft, he was hyped as one of hockey’s Next Big Things, even though his background was unlike anything you typically see in hockey.

Jones was born in Texas, and his father, Popeye, is a former NBA player. He comes from an interracial family, and is one of the few prominent NHL players who identifies as black. Most sons of NBA players will go on to play basketball in one form or another. It’s unprecedented for one of them to become an NHL superstar.

In an article with The Undefeated, Jones discussed what that means to be one of the few black stars in a game played predominantly by white people.

“There have been a few African-American kids who have come up to me and said, ‘You’re my favorite player,’ ” Jones said.

“They have my jersey or my T-shirt jersey on. That’s pretty cool. I am for whatever I can do to grow the game in all aspects. A black kid cheering for hockey or cheering for me is pretty rare. When you see that, you get pretty excited.”

That’s the kind of unique impact Jones can have off the ice for young fans around the world, and it speaks to his immense ability on the ice. Jones’ great feat isn’t just making it to the NHL. He’s quickly becoming one of the best players in the entire league.

That’s why Jones is No. 18 on our Top 25 Under 25 rankings: he’s the full package as a defenseman. Size, mobility, scoring, smarts, he’s got it all. From watching him, you’d assume he comes from a family that has hockey in its blood. Instead, his dad is currently an assistant coach for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

The only question for Jones now is how far he can take his game. At 22, he’s already a top-pairing defenseman on one of the most exciting young defenses in hockey.

Past accomplishments

For someone who’s just 22, it’s impressive what Jones has already been able to accomplish as a hockey player. He’s already been a top-three NHL draft pick, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and earned NHL All-Star honors.

It’s been a consistent upward trend, too. Jones had his best season yet in 2016-17, when he emerged as the top defenseman on a playoff team in Columbus. He finished the season with 12 goals, 30 assists, and stellar possession numbers over 75 games to earn 18th place in Norris Trophy voting.

That’s the first time he’s cracked into the balloting for the award given to the league’s top defenseman, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he climbs even higher in the future. For one, his point production has gone up every season, from 25 to 27 to 31 to 42. We know voters for year-end awards love their points.

And going forward, Jones should continue to be a key player for both the Blue Jackets and the U.S. national team. It’s unfortunate that he’ll miss the chance to play in his first Olympics with the NHL not participating, but he appeared with Team USA’s senior team for the 2015 and 2016 World Championships. He also played on Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Future impact

Jones has already reached top-pairing defenseman status, so it’s just a matter of whether he can take that next leap toward Norris Trophy contender. It definitely helps having another superb talent in Zach Werenski next to him, although it’s fair to wonder whether they could sap votes from each other as teammates.

One thing that seems certain is that Jones will be a bargain for the Blue Jackets. He’s already signed for the next five seasons at a rate of just $5.4 million per year. He’s already worth that money now as a 22-year-old, and if he keeps elevating his game, that could become one of the most valuable contracts in the league.

Columbus may view Werenski as its No. 1 defenseman of the future, but Jones should be a No. 2 of the highest caliber.

Is this ranking too high or too low?

Given that this list tends to lean toward forwards over defensemen, it’d be reasonable to think Jones isn’t rated highly enough here. Five of our voters had him in the top-10 of their respective ballots, for example.

For Jones to really take off, he’ll need to ultimately have a greater impact on his team’s performance. Last season, the Blue Jackets’ GF% was 51 percent with him on the ice, per Puckalytics. While that’s good, it’s not the kind of number that’ll typically place him among the game’s very best. Werenski, for example, had an on-ice GF% of 57.3 percent while on the same team.

But Jones is already one of the better defensemen in the league, and he’ll be just 23 years old when the 2017-18 season starts. The future is bright for the Blue Jackets blue liner.

Highest rank: No. 6
Lowest rank: Not ranked