Max Jones is coming home with the Memorial Cup.
Not quite two months ago, it looked like Jones might see his draft stock fall, due in no small part to other talented players showing him up while he sat out a 12-game suspension for an unwise, blindside hit. Central Scouting did drop him from 11th at midterm to 14th in their final North American skater ranking.
Since his return from that suspension during the OHL Final against the Niagara Ice Dogs, however, Jones has been playing like a man on a mission.
That mission was clearly to make up for lost time by helping his team win first the OHL Championship, and then the Memorial Cup, but it’s likely had another effect — pushing Jones back up the draft rankings, and possibly even higher than he was prior to his suspension.
While it was fellow draft-eligible teammate Matthew Tkachuk who netted the overtime winner for the Knights Sunday, Jones did everything he could to get the puck on net throughout the game.
He had London’s first two shots on goal, and his speed put him on an odd-man rush to the Huskies’ net more than once—just another example of the fire Jones brings on every shift.
It can be tempting to say that Jones is a product of his teammates, given the high-quality players he’s surrounded with every day in London. However, the numbers show that isn’t exactly true.
During the regular season, 42 of Jones’s 52 points were either goals or primary assists. Furthermore, rather than his point totals falling while his highly-touted teammates were away at the World Junior Championships, Jones stepped up and went on an impressive run.
A good way to sum up Jones’s game is that he likes to leave the ice having made an impact—both on the scoresheet and on the opposing players.
His skating is merely above-average, but it’s his first step that gives Jones an edge and allows him to be down the ice often before the opposing team has time to react. His puckhandling is strong, with Jones able to make the creative choice and hold on to the puck in situations other players may not.
He’s tenacious—he doesn’t give up on a play if an option exists. He’s also worked on improving his play away from the puck, even killing penalties this season and scoring three shorthanded goals.
Jones is also big. Scouts like big. He’s 6’3” and roughly 200 pounds, depending who you ask, and he likes to throw his weight around—sometimes a little too much, if you ask Owen Sound’s Justin Brack.
Still, Jones is young. He has time to take dangerous plays like the hit on Brack out of his game and focus on his skill instead, and he should, because the skill is there in spades.
“He possesses a rare blend of size, speed and skill. His separation speed and quickness make him a very intriguing prospect. He is a very dynamic skater for his size, which allows him to get into the prime scoring areas, creating chances for him to utilize his soft touch around the net.” — Matt Ryan of NHL Central Scouting to NHL.com writer Joe Yerdon
Whether Jones will be allowed to develop his skill or be asked to play the big-bodied, physical role depends almost entirely on the team that drafts him. For his sake, let’s hope it’s a team that prefers he focus on the former.
His draft rankings have him in prime position to go somewhere like Philadelphia or Boston—two teams that would love Jones’s hard-hitting style and offensive talent. Looking at it from the player’s side of things, however, Jones is likely to pan out better developmentally in the long run in a system like Nashville, Carolina, or even the Arizona Coyotes’ development pipeline should he fall that far.