Caleb Jones nearing return from fluky wrist injury as Blackhawks’ shuffle continuesBen Popeon November 15, 2021 at 10:10 pm

Caleb Jones could make his Blackhawks regular-season debut soon. | AP Photos

Jones will likely debut during the Hawks’ road trip. He, Wyatt Kalynuk, Brandon Hagel, Tyler Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle are all currently working their way back from injuries.

Caleb Jones felt some pain as he battled in the corner during a practice drill on Oct. 5, deep into an impressive training camp for the new Blackhawks defenseman.

At the time, it seemed like a minor issue, if anything. But that proved not to be the case.

“I thought I just jammed my wrist, so I finished practice, went home [and] was icing it,” Jones said Monday. “The next day, I came in and showed the trainers what was going on. They tried to tape it, and they said if my tendon had stayed in place, I’d be OK. But it kept side-sliding out.”

Jones, 24, was eventually ruled out for four-to-six weeks. And although he started skating again weeks ago, resumed practicing with the team a few days ago and said Monday his wrist feels better, he’ll end up missing longer than that.

He’ll participate in pregame warmups Wednesday against the Kraken, interim coach Derek King said, in order to “get him back [in] a how-do-you-get-dressed-before-a-game kind of routine.” But Saturday against the Oilers, his team for his first three NHL seasons, seems like the most likely date for his Hawks regular-season debut.

“I’m not going to lie, it’d be nice to play in Edmonton,” Jones said, laughing. “It’d be a fun one. It’d especially be weird for my first game as a Blackhawk to be back there.”

Jones’ imminent return is the latest development in what feels like a never-ending injury shuffle for the Hawks.

Among the forwards, on top of MacKenzie Entwistle missing another three-to-five weeks, Tyler Johnson — who hasn’t played since Oct. 29 due to COVID-19 and a neck injury — is receiving reevaluation and is iffy to travel westward Tuesday with the Hawks. Brandon Hagel — six days into an estimated two-week absence with a shoulder injury — will travel after practicing Tuesday, but with no contact yet.

And among the defensemen, both Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk have seemed close for a while, yet neither have officially returned. Kalynuk is currently getting up to speed in the AHL, where has two points in two games so far.

Their frustratingly drawn-out rehab periods have forced the Hawks to play Erik Gustafsson — despite being signed solely as an injury stop-gap and despite his continually poor defensive play — in 14 straight games.

Jones, once ready, should provide a major upgrade over Gustafsson. He’s equally capable of providing an offensive spark from the blue line, but far more reliable defensively. During his roughly 46 minutes of even-strength ice time in the preseason, the Hawks led their opponents 20-18 in scoring chances and 4-2 in goals.

And Jones also seems quite motivated to prove, after such a long delay, he can still be a long-term piece for the Hawks. He’d clearly impressed ex-coach Jeremy Colliton before the coaching change; now he wants, and needs, to do the same under King.

“This was a big year for me to come in and show I could be a really good NHL player,” Jones said. “In Edmonton, I had good spurts, but I never consistently was able to keep doing it.

“It was a tough blow for sure to hear [I’d miss this time], especially on a weird play in practice. But I kept my head on straight and kept working hard. And I know I’ll get another chance.”

Note: Hawks alumni Marian Hossa and Doug Wilson were officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, a year after they were chosen as parts of the 2020 class. Patrick Kane, reflecting recently on Hossa’s prolific 2009-to-2017 Chicago tenure, called him “amazing for this franchise” and said it wasn’t a coincidence “that when he retired…our team started to go down.”

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