This season, draft-eligible London Knights forward Max Jones is shooting the puck in the net—and himself in the foot.
Jones, an OHL rookie, is a skilled left wing who has put up impressive point totals—52 points (28 goals and 24 assists) in 63 games. He was ranked 11th by Central Scouting at midterm, as well as 11th by ISS, and should be looking at being drafted anywhere from 10th to 15th this June.
Unfortunately for Jones, those points and high rankings have come accompanied by 106 penalty minutes, all of them well-earned, as well as a two-game suspension in the regular season and a playoff suspension still pending for his hit on Owen Sound Attack forward Justin Brack Wednesday night.
Jones’s hit was blind side and high, and he didn’t seem to try to avoid it. In fact, certain angles make it look as though he leaned up into it.
OHL scout for DraftBuzz Hockey Kathryn Jean slowed the hit down and examined it more closely, and it doesn’t appear that the principal point of contact was the head. While this may be good news for Brack’s injury status, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter when it comes to disciplining Jones. It was still targeting, still reckless and dangerous, and still caused Brack to leave the game with a suspected injury. While Owen Sound isn’t commenting per their policy, Brack will not make the trip to London for Game 5 on Friday night.
Jones has a history of questionable hits and bad penalties—something you never want to say about a player in his first year in a league. He was suspended two games for a slew-foot against Owen Sound early in the season, and he’s gotten away with some plays that aren’t quite on the clean side. Back in January, during a particularly tense period between the Knights and the Sarnia Sting, Sting coach Derian Hatcher mentioned that he felt Jones had gotten away with three slew-foots in four games between the teams, even going as far as to say that the Sting had all of them on tape and yet the OHL hadn’t called Jones on the carpet for any of them.
Wednesday night, Jones was shown laughing as he was escorted out of the Owen Sound/London game. While this was likely prompted by the chirping he was doing with Owen Sound players sticking up for their teammate, it speaks to a larger problem. These young players don’t think about consequences of their actions on the ice beyond the moment.
For Jones, those consequences could include him tanking his own draft stock. He’s sitting in a pretty good position—he’s slated to go mid-first round, and with his skill he’s bound to be considered an A-level prospect for whatever team drafts him. The problem is that it’s unlikely a team will want a prospect who is never going to play because they’re always in the penalty box or suspended. Your skill doesn’t matter if you’re never on the ice, and an NHL rookie is regarded very differently by officials than an OHL rookie in Dale Hunter’s London powerhouse.
Jones isn’t doomed to be a dirty player for the rest of his career, of course. He’s barely 18, and he’s got plenty of time and opportunity to change his style of play. However, the time to intervene is now, for the good of his development as a player and for the good of other players who may be watching this situation. OHL commissioner David Branch just needs to give him a swift kick in the pants in the form of a suspension—and one that isn’t a two-game slap on the wrist.