Blue Jackets’ defense has to step up as Jones out three weeks with fractured foot

Seth Jones skated 26-plus minutes on a fractured and bleeding foot, but the injury will knock him out of the action for the next three weeks and put pressure on the rest of the Blue Jackets’ defense.

The Columbus Blue Jackets went their first 10 games without suffering all that much in the injury department, but the next 10 or so games are going to be trying on the backend after a somewhat freak injury sidelined Seth Jones for three weeks.

Jones, 22, suffered the injury in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues, and he was hit with the injury in both gruesome and bizarre fashion. During the first frame, Jones got tangled up with Blues winger Patrik Berglund and his skate came down on Jones’ foot. But it gets worse. Boy, does it ever.

“(His skate) went through the tongue (of my skate) and my sock,” Jones told the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline. “I didn’t want to take (the skate) off between periods because I knew the swelling would build up and I wouldn’t be able to get my skate back on.”

Jones told Portzline that, following the game, he noticed blood coming up through the slice in his skate and soaking his laces. That’s worth a shudder or two, and it also makes it all the more amazing that Jones logged 26:19 in the contest.

Because of the timeline for return, it’s likely that Jones isn’t able to return to action much before the end of November. In fact, the three week timeline puts his return at Nov. 29, over which time he will have missed 10 games. The absence will likely include two divisional meetings with the Washington Capitals and a game against the New York Rangers, both of which are high-scoring teams and opponents Jones would be likely to see big minutes against.

And it’s in his ability to log minutes against top competition that Jones’ absence will most be felt. It’s rare that losing a young defenseman is worthy of such great concern, but Jones has become the top blueliner in Columbus in short order. This season, he’s averaging 24:14 of ice time per game and has knocked home three goals and six points in 10 contests.

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With Jones out, though, the rest of the back end will be forced to step up, and it could be a showcase of just what exactly the Blue Jackets have found in rookie Zach Werenski

Drafted eighth overall in 2015, Werenski made his mark with the Lake Erie Monsters in his first taste of the pro game in 2015-16, getting into the team’s lineup in time for the post-season and posting five goals and 14 points in 17 games as the Blue Jackets’ affiliate captured the Calder Cup. 

The 19-year-old has built on that performance early this season, scoring two goals and 10 points in 10 games, but it’s the faith that coach John Tortorella has in the youngster that is most impressive. After starting the season as a second-pairing defenseman, Werenski has quickly found himself skating on the top unit alongside Jones, and chances are that’s where he’ll remain with his partner on the shelf. In practice Monday, Werenski skated with David Savard on the top pairing, and the onus is going to fall on the top-four to be solid with Jones out.

Columbus’ third pairing was the duo of Dalton Prout and rookie Markus Nutivaara, and that’s going to need to be sheltered with Jones out. Nutivaara, though he’s appeared in all 10 games, has skated a mere 12:50 per game, and Prout has averaged just 14:24 per game in his five appearances.

But if Werenski can step up even more and the duo of Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson can hold firm, the Jackets could very well escape the loss of their No. 1 rearguard without it taking too much of a toll on the rest of their campaign.

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