With this year’s London Knights, it’s hard for any one player to stand out on a team with so many high-profile talents. In a stacked forward lineup featuring Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner, Arizona Coyotes pick Christian Dvorak and highly-touted member of the 2016 draft class Matthew Tkachuk, it’s even more amazing how much Max Jones has managed to impress.
He started the season slowly, unable to score a goal in his first six games, and things only got worse for him when he was handed a two-game suspension for a slewfoot in a game against Owen Sound. In his first game back, however, Jones potted his first OHL goal in a 7-2 triumph over the Soo Greyhounds. Then came Saturday night, when the Knights hosted the North Bay Battalion. The Knights came out of the game 4-3 winners in overtime, but that hardly paints a picture of the type of game it was. Jones scored twice as London fought their way to a 3-0 lead in the third period. Several poorly-timed defensive lapses and an impressive show of integrity from the Battalion had the game tied at 3 quickly, however. Overtime didn’t last long, though, as Jones took matters into his own hands again. Demonstrating the beauty of 3-on-3, he broke up a Battalion 2-on-1, which immediately sent himself and Mitch Marner on an odd man rush in the opposite direction. Marner’s cross-ice pass in the offensive zone fed Jones perfectly as he put the puck home to complete his first OHL hat trick and win the game.
Watch Max Jones’s entire hat trick:
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) October 25, 2015
“Everything’s coming to me,” said Jones after his hat-trick game, “I’m just going to let everything keep rolling.” Since his return from suspension, he’s rebooted his season and assumed the offensive role expected of him.
Jones had another assist Sunday as the Knights fell 6-3 to the Windsor Spitfires. The 17-year-old winger now has 7 points on the season, with 3 assists added to his 4 goals, almost all of which coming in the last four games since his suspension. When asked what’s causing him to break out, his answer was simple: “Speed. I’ve found my chances to fly through the neutral zone.” He’s absolutely right; it was apparent during his overtime shift against North Bay that he can easily burn defencemen with his skating ability. That, combined with his tall frame and skill with the puck, is what has led to Jones being among the top ten (as high as 3rd, for ISS Hockey) on pretty much every rankings list for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Jones committed to play in London this year, when the Knights picked him in the first round of the OHL Draft, after being in the U.S. National Team Development Program. This year is make-or-break for him, as he will be a key piece of a team poised to make a deep playoff run. He and Matthew Tkachuk could also potentially get the call to represent the USA at the World Junior Championship in Finland, so that has to add to his motivation.
The London Knights are stacked this year, particularly in terms of skilled forwards. They lead the OHL in goals scored by a wide margin, with 58 in 12 games (an average of 4.83 per game). They sit fourth in the Western Conference, but it would certainly surprise everyone if they didn’t jump to the top of the standings over the next few months.