It’s no secret that Ryan Jones didn’t get the same admiration and affection from the stats community over his first year with the Oilers that he did with the average fan. The reason was pretty straightforward: despite his superb goal totals, Jones got hammered in the scoring chances department.
This year, however, Jones has put in a performance that pretty much nobody can argue with. If he can play the next 60 like he has the first 20, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have any detractors left.
Before we get into Jones’ success this season, let’s revisit the reason many struggled with the acclaim that he got last season: scoring chances. Here is the relevant portion of my post from September of this year:
Jones ranked dead last among Oilers players in scoring chance differential – meaning that no other player on the team was on the ice for a greater percentage of opposition scoring chances. On a team that boasted Jean-Francois Jacques as a regular, that’s a damning statement. The with-or-without (WOWY) numbers show the impact Jones had on his linemates – regular partners like Cogliano, Fraser and Gagner fared much better playing without him than with him.
Let’s go a little further with that point, and look at Colin Fraser and Jones together and apart. The duo, when played together, were out-chanced 63-to-26. That’s almost a 3-to-1 ratio; it’s a terrible number. Fraser, without Jones, was out-chanced 74-to-62; Jones without Fraser was out-chanced 201-to-137 (all numbers from Copper & Blue’s summary). It didn’t take much to conclude that Jones was the problem, because no matter where he played we saw the scoring chance numbers go down for that line.
There’s been a sharp reversal this season, as we saw when we looked at the scoring chances a couple of days ago. Sure, Jones is still getting out-chanced… but it isn’t by a lot, and the bulk of his time has been spent against the opposition’s best in the defensive zone, just like Smyth and Horcoff. The fact that he’s been leaned upon in a checking role says nothing but good things about the player.
Interestingly, Jones told Robin Brownlee over the summer that he wanted to be more reliable in the defensive zone. My take on that was cautious optimism:
To his credit, Jones told Brownlee that he needs to be more reliable in the defensive zone. I’m cautiously optimistic that he can live up to that goal – the Nashville Predators are a team that take defensive responsibility seriously, and while Jones was eventually waived by that club he was a pretty serviceable depth winger during his time there. The facts that he knows his role and has filled it before elsewhere are positives. Still, it’s a steep hill to climb.
Calling what’s happened “a steep hill” understates how good Jones has been so far this season. There aren’t many lines that can take on the role that Smyth, Horcoff and Jones were asked to for the early part of the year, and while Jones may not have been the guy driving results (I don’t think anyone doubts the impact Ryan Smyth has had on this team) he was an integral part of the unit and did fine work.
The only caveat here is that 21 games does not a season make; but if Jones can finish as he has started he’ll have won over just about everybody.