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Wisconsin hockey recruiting: Does Caleb Jones make sense for the Badgers?

After the loss of Keegan Ford, Wisconsin could use another talented defenseman. Could Caleb Jones be that recruit?

Richard T Gagnon -- Getty Images






2015 or '16








U.S. NTDP U-18

Frisco, Texas


When you're the younger brother of an up-and-coming NHL superstar, people tend to make assumptions. Assumptions about the quality of your game, your life as the son of a former NBA player, and of course, the route you may take to reach your own dreams as a professional hockey player.

For U.S. NTDP U18 defenseman Caleb Jones, those assumptions from many include a move next season to Western Hockey League.

But those assumptions are premature, according to Jones' head coach Don Granato.

"He hasn't committed to major junior," Granato said. "Everybody thinks that was the natural step. I think some colleges are thinking he's just going to play major junior."

Many in the hockey world believe Jones will pursue the major junior route because that's the path his older brother, Seth, took after leaving the NTDP. Seth Jones' rights were owned by Everett, but the Silvertips traded him to the Portland Winterhawks for his one-year stop in the WHL. Jones was eventually drafted No. 4 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators, and he has played in the NHL ever since.

Most assume Caleb will follow in his brother's footsteps, as Portland also own his rights after they selected the native of Frisco, Texas in the third round of the 2012 Bantam Draft. But Granato believes his young defenseman has a serious interest in playing college hockey.

"My phone would be ringing the day after that article came out, I can tell you that," Granato said. "Because a lot of guys just assume he's going major junior."

While Jones came into the National Team Development Program a bit of a project, he's developed his all-around game and turned himself into an NHL Draft prospect. NHL Central Scouting recently released its midterm rankings for the 2015 Draft and Jones was ranked as the No. 77 North American skater.

"He's one of our most improved players," Granato said. "He's grown a couple of inches. He's got a much better feel for things.

"He'll be an NHL Draft pick, there's just not a question whether that will be the case or not. I think he's ranked as a 3rd or 4th round pick, and I think that's a fair assessment at this point. He's a heck of a player."

Wisconsin is one school that could be in search of a talented defenseman to step into the lineup next season. After the departure of freshman Keegan Ford at the semester break, the Badgers have scholarship money available that they could spend on defenseman for next season.

The coaching staff brought in Jake Bunz to replace Ford, but he's a non-scholarship player that isn't ready to contribute at this level yet.

UW will return seniors Eddie Wittchow and Kevin Schulze next season, along with redshirt sophomore Tim Davison and true sophomores Jack Dougherty and Jake Linhart. Wisconsin also signed Matthew Berkovitz and Peter Tischke out of the USHL to national letters of intent.

That leaves the Badgers with eight defensemen on the roster, nine if you're including walk-on Cullen Hurley who is a bit of a swing player, as he can play both defense and forward.

In a perfect world, Wisconsin would ask Berkovitz to return to Sioux City for another season of USHL development. Berkovitz missed a big chunk of games earlier this season due to mono and has struggled to adapt to the league. He has yet to register a point this season in 20 games.

Jones, who has three goals and nine assists for 12 points in 38 games this season, would provide Wisconsin with a much deeper defensive core and could be another productive option to insert into the lineup next season.

The biggest drawback to adding Jones is the fact he's left handed, which would make the Badgers even more left-hand dominant than they already are.

Regardless of whether Wisconsin pursues Jones or not, Granato believes someone is getting an impressive player next season.

"He's a hard-nosed defenseman, but he's a great athlete," Granato said. "He's a great skater. He has a lot of power - he goes through people.

"I say to people, he'd be the perfect pair with his brother. He can skate with him up and down the rink, but he likes the physicality aspect of the game - he closes on guys quick defensively. He's scrappy. He'll jar guys in practice and games and guys will turn back and look to see what number that was."

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