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‘You want to start off on the right foot.’ Chicago Blackhawks look to avoid a repeat of last season as they open the schedule with a difficult 3-game road trip. – Chicago Tribune

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“It’s kind of where it all started for me,” he said. “Watched the Stanley Cup (Final) here, (Avalanche great) Joe Sakic kind of helping my dad get us (Jones and brother Caleb) into hockey.”

Jones also was treading into new territory in his career with the defenseman’s Hawks debut.

Jones, goalie Marc-André Fleury and center Tyler Johnson are some of the new faces representing a kick start to the Hawks’ aspirations for NHL relevance, and there will be no greater barometer than the first three games — all on the road — versus the Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I wouldn’t say nerves,” said Jones, speaking for himself and perhaps for the team as well. “There’s expectation, of course. There’s expectation in all sports, no matter what position you’re in. I obviously put a lot of expectation on myself as well. Whatever the fans, the organization or the media is putting on me, I’m putting just as much or even more.”

The draft-night trade for Jones was enough of a head-turner — the Hawks dealt Adam Boqvist and a 2022 conditional first-round pick as part of the package to get him — but they really opened eyes when they signed him to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension. They’re married to Jones through 2030-31, with a $9.5 million annual salary-cap hit starting next season.

Jones expressed disappointment with his play early in training camp and the preseason as he adjusted to new teammates, system and surroundings.

“First two games I was a little iffy with some of my timing, some of my plays,” he said. “I don’t think my breakouts were too clean. … The last game against (the Minnesota Wild), I played a lot better.”

The Hawks initially paired him with fellow newcomer Jake McCabe, but now McCabe is partnered with Connor Murphy while Jones has settled in with Calvin de Haan.

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“I thought we read off each other pretty good,” Jones said. “He’s obviously a smart player, very positionally sound in his play. One thing I noticed last game was he loves to keep a tight gap, especially when they’re coming out of the offensive zone or through the neutral zone.

“He keeps a tight gap and he’s supporting from behind or vice versa, and then we can get that transition game going a lot quicker. That’s one thing I did notice that we worked well together on.”

Jones and all of the Hawks defensemen have their work cut out for them over the first three games. After facing Avalanche forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog and offensive-minded defenseman Cale Makar in the opener — Nathan MacKinnon was held out because of a positive COVID-19 test — they will see the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang on Saturday.

The Devils are in the midst of a revamp like the Hawks, but they added power-play specialist Dougie Hamilton.

What the Hawks don’t want is a repeat of last season, when they lost the opener in demoralizing fashion to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and dropped their first four games.

“Anytime you start the season, you want to start off on the right foot with a win,” Jones said. “We’ve got a road trip that’s going to be important for the start of our season. Obviously Colorado’s a great team and are favorites in a lot of people’s mind, but I like our chances.”


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