Seth Jones and Victor Hedman share many of the same traits.
They’re humble, they’re hungry, and they are two of the best defensemen in the NHL.
The each also have a fierce appetite to win, and that will be on display when Jones and the Columbus Blue Jackets play Hedman and the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena on Monday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, SN1, TVAS, FS-O, SUN).
Jones has been one of the top players of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has been getting showered with compliments along the way. The same goes for Hedman, who will try to help Tampa Bay build on its 2-1 series lead.
Perhaps the strongest comment on the two came from Lightning coach John Cooper.
“I hope people understand what they’re seeing,” Cooper said Friday after the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win in Game 2. “You’re getting to watch in this series some of the premier defensemen not only to play in this game, but to ever play this game.”
Jones, who is reluctant to talk about himself, said he was flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Hedman.
“It’s obviously a big honor to hear that from the opposing team’s coach,” Jones said Sunday in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city. “I try to go out and play the best I can every night. But I’m sure you could ask Victor the same thing and he’d agree it’s more than just us in this series.
“It’s a team game. Me or Victor or one forward can’t win the series by himself. It’s a team concept and I think he’d say the same thing that I would, that we try to do the best for our teams every night. And whatever that is offensively or defensively, we want to be elite at what we do.”
Hedman won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2018. The 29-year-old, now in his 11th NHL season, has been a finalist for the award for four consecutive seasons, up against Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and John Carlson of the Washington Capitals this season.
Jones has never been a Norris finalist.
“It’s remarkable to me with Jones … I don’t have the answer whether he’s been up for Norris Trophies but he should be,” Cooper said. “(Hedman has) broken through that door and it’s obviously richly deserved.”
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are a perfect place for the hockey world to see how good Jones really is.
“I think on this stage people are seeing what we’ve seen for a number of years,” Tortorella said of the 25-year-old in his seventh NHL season. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for his willingness to defend. He’s just outstanding in the room that he takes and his willingness to defend.
“I think other players are talked about who put up offensive numbers and have a lot of ice time. I’d like to see anyone who defends as hard as Seth Jones does in this League. If people notice him, good for him. He deserves that.”
It was hard not to notice Jones in Game 1 of this series. Tampa Bay won the game 3-2 in five overtimes, but Jones had 65:06 of ice time, an NHL record since time on ice became an official statistic in 1997-98. He has played 119:48 in the series, averaging just under 40 minutes per game.
“Playing against a guy like Seth Jones, that’s a challenge for us,” Hedman said. “He and (defense partner Zach) Werenski have great chemistry and make great plays. They force us all over the ice.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a big challenge, and not just for me. It’s fun seeing them out there but it’s obviously more fun seeing ourselves and us having success on the ice.”
Hedman injured his right ankle in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Aug. 9, but he was able to play Game 1 against Columbus. He’s been getting stronger, playing a total of 106:44 ice time in the three games, and scored the game-winning goal in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 3.
“I’m obviously happy that I’m here now and that I’ve been able to play three games,” Hedman said. “I think (Game 3) was the game where I had the best legs. So just got to keep improving.”
Hedman has two points (one goal, one assist) in the series; Jones one point (one assist). According to Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens, their matchup cuts much deeper than numbers on a scoresheet.
“It’s a showcase of two of the finest defensemen in the game,” Stevens said in a phone interview. “Both these guys are such complete defensemen, both offensively and defensively, and that’s something I hold in very high regard.
“They’re a treat to watch.”