Ryan Jones won over many (not all) of his critics by scoring 17 goals last season as a follow up to the 18 he potted during his coming out party with the Edmonton Oilers in 2010-11. It was a classic case of SIUTBOHC for those who thought his emergence was a fluke, a one-off.
Add up those two seasons, and the Flowmeister has scored 35 goals, most of the hack-and-whack, close-in variety. But, as the saying goes, the bottom line isn’t how, but how many. Over the past two seasons, only two forwards have scored more goals while draped in Edmonton silks – Jordan Eberle has 52 and Taylor Hall has 49 despite being interrupted by injury. Sam Gagner, also out for long periods, has 33. Ales Hemsky? Nope. Bad shoulder. Ryan Smyth has potted 42 in that span, but one of those seasons was with L.A.
I liked Jones before a lot of people around here did, but I’m not for one second putting him in the same class as Hall and Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has just one season under his belt. Duh! Likewise, Hemsky will outscore Jones if he stays healthy (actually healthy, not just well enough to be in the line-up) for 65 games. So, too, whipping boy Gagner.
That said, there is no question, at least in my feeble mind, Jones is a handy guy to have around. He’s a decent-sized winger who can spot in on the top two lines in a pinch because of his nose for the net and he’s well-suited to a grinding/energy role. He’s an adept penalty killer.
The question, and one facing new coach Ralph Krueger, is where does Jones fit in the 2012-13 mix when the puck finally drops given the talented kids ahead of him, the arrival of Nail Yakupov and that Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen will be vying for ice time?
ABOUT THAT THIRD LINE
The way I see it playing out, the Oilers just might have a pretty good third line on their hands if Krueger puts bodies in the places that would seem to make sense – specifically, a line with Smyth on left wing, captain Shawn Horcoff at centre and Jones on the right side.
If we assume that Krueger’s first line will see Hall and Eberle flanking Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner playing between Yakupov and Hemsky, and I think that’s a safe bet given what Krueger has said, that leaves the trio of Smyth, who can and will also play further up in the line-up as a safety net for Yakupov, Horcoff and Jones.
That sets up a less-than-ideal situation where Paajarvi and Hartikainen are looking for ice time with Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk. It could be reasonably argued Paajarvi and Hartikainen are fits for the third line, but they’ll have to wait until injuries strike or GM Steve Tambellini does some weeding out.
If Smyth and Jones are the primary wingers for Horcoff, opposing goaltenders are in for a faceful of backside via No. 94 and No. 28 when that line’s on the ice. I also like it that there’s some counterstrike capability there against teams loaded in the top-six but thin below. Smyth could flirt with 20 goals again if he isn’t run out of gas by too many minutes and Jones will get his 15-18 goals.
The lines, as they always are, will be a carousel of players as Krueger looks for fits, but my guess is a third line of Smyth, Horcoff and Jones might be a very pleasant surprise in 2012-13.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.