Caleb Jones signed a two-year extension yesterday with an AAV of $850,000. He will make $800,000 next season and $900,000 in 2021/2022. Jones has played 23 games this season and 40 in his NHL career, but he has looked more comfortable each game. He’s played mainly on the right side — his off-side — which is difficult for any player, never mind a rookie. But having played there in junior and most of his AHL career has made the transition to the NHL a bit easier. I’m curious to see how he would look every night on his natural left side.
This is a good deal for both sides. Jones gets a guaranteed $1.7 million and the Oilers get a cost effective third pairing defender for the next two seasons.
Jones’ mobility and ability to play both sides might make him very attractive to Seattle in the 2021 expansion draft, but depending how things play out the Oilers might be able to protect Jones, Ethan Bear, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse next summer if they opt to protect four D-men and four forwards. Adam Larsson is a UFA next summer, so they could elect not to protect him and it depends how Matt Benning is playing by then as well.
It is difficult to project expansion rosters 18 months out, as the roster can change a lot between now and then, but all Jones cares about is he has a one-way deal for the next two seasons and is just looking to keep improving.
Jones joined me and Jason Strudwick on our TSN 1260 radio show yesterday to discuss his contract, the areas of his game he is focused on improving, his relationship with Jim Playfair and defending the “lacrosse” goals.
Jason Gregor: I saw your mom had tweeted out that this was something that has been in the works for a while. Is it a big boost to you mentally when a team wants to commit to you months before your contract is up?
Caleb Jones: Yeah exactly. Like if you see my mom on Twitter you’ll probably get a kick out of some of the tweets she’s been throwing out there, but that’s a different story (laughs). But for sure when they want to commit to you and let you know that you’re a part of the plan going forward and that they believe in you as a player, it gives you all of the confidence in the world. So this is something that has been talked about for the past month now, but it’s good to get done and now I just focus on trying to get better and continue to establish myself at this level.
Jason Strudwick: Now you know where you’re going to be for the next two-and-a-half years. Does that allow you to completely focus on your craft, which is becoming a more complete player, and then add some games to your resume to become a more experienced defenceman?
Jones: Yes for sure. Definitely puts the mind at rest. It maybe gives you a boost of confidence that the organization believes in you. At every level I’ve played I’ve maybe taken a little longer than other guys to adjust, whether it’s Junior or the American League, so I have full confidence in myself and what I believe I can be at this level and I think I’ve been able to show that in spurts. It’s just about trying to show it more consistently and kind of mature into the player I’m going to be, hopefully for a long time.
Gregor: I like that self awareness when you say ‘other guys can maybe develop a little quicker, but I eventually get to where I want to be.’ You have to be who you are. You can’t try to be like other players and rush the process of development. You’ve had a decent consecutive stretch of games with the Edmonton Oilers. Where do you feel your game has improved the most compared to last year when you were called up?
Jones: I think I’ve gotten a little bit better defensively. I still make mistakes, but I feel like I’ve rounded out my game a little better on that side of the puck. I think trying to focus more on the defensive side of the puck has maybe taken away a little bit from what I do on the offensive side of the puck, but the coaching staff has been very clear about what they expect from me in this moment and that’s to try to give them solid minutes and low event minutes on the third pairing.
I try to every night do what I can to help the team and feel like I’ve been getting better defensively and I can tell you my game is really starting to come on right now. So I’m just going to try to keep getting better every day
Strudwick: I think a lot of Oilers fans would like to know the approach that Jim Playfair, the D-man coach on the Oilers, has with you players in game on the bench. How does he interact with you after a good or maybe after a weaker type play?
Jones: He’s really calm back there. That’s what I’ve kind of learned off of him. He’s a calm guy, he doesn’t say too much, but if there is something that needs to be said, he says it and he has your attention because he doesn’t say much. He’ll compliment you or let you know what was a good play or that you maybe should have done something different, but for the most part, at least he’s told me ‘You’re an NHL player now and we have confidence in you. Go out and play and be yourself.’ After the game we’ll go out and look at video and he’ll show me stuff then, but during the game he’s really calm and doesn’t say too much.
Gregor: You mentioned making mistakes, and that’s part of NHL hockey. Even 10-year veterans are still going to make mistakes. You mentioned working on your game. So what exactly are you working on? Is it just the reads, is it positioning? What are you working on specifically as a defenceman at the NHL level?
Jones: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that getting up to speed is the first challenge. It’s a bit of a faster pace than the American Hockey League. It’s little things, right? The players are so good at this level and the game has gotten so fast that you’ve always got to be in your position and you’ve got to try to keep tight gaps. For a young guy you maybe lose thought of that when you first come in, you think ‘Oh I’ve been an offensive guy so I’m going to try to make plays and be offensive,’ but good defence can also lead to offence. That’s something that Jim Playfair has talked to me about. He wants us to get to the point where your good defending is creating good transition chances for our team. So that’s kind of the approach I’m taking right now, and I feel like it’s paying off and I keep getting better as the season goes on.
Strudwick: The team had a tough stretch before Christmas. Since then you guys have found your game. Is there a different sense about this team, maybe something that you felt earlier in this season?
Jones: I think the group is a really good group of guys and has a really good leadership group. No one ever really rests on their laurels. I came up when they were really hot at the start of the year and the attitude never changed, even when we were down. We were in a lot of games and we just try to keep sticking with it and right now we’re on a bit of a hot streak that we’re trying to ride. But I sense the group tries to keep a level head and just show up to work every day and that’s something that I’ve been taking from the veteran guys and the leadership group.
Gregor: You’ve played a lot on your off side in the American League. You came up here and you played left and you’ve been playing right lately. All of the numbers suggest it is more difficult to play your offside. How much more of a challenge is it on your off side at the NHL than it was at the American League level?
Jones: Well I will start off saying I probably played my right side now going back to Junior but from the American League to here it’s like you said: it’s a little bit more of a quicker game. So, when you get the puck it kind of needs to be on and off of your stick. You don’t really have that half second or second to kind of corral it and maybe stick handle and look what play you want to make, it’s got to be on and off of your stick.
It’s a little tougher. I’ve been getting used to it. I’ve been working with Jimmy about trying to face up ice a little more and to get into position quicker on that offside, so that I have a little more time to take a look and make a good play. Bu you’ve got to feel comfortable on your backhand, and I’m really confident on my backhand, so if I have to make a little play with it, I’m not afraid to do that but I try to stay off of it as much as possible. It’s definitely a little bit of a challenge up here. You know you kind of break into the league playing on the right side, and I’d be curious how playing left would be, but I’m just happy to get the ice time and to get better. It’s only going to help me in the long run hopefully in my career.
Strudwick: When you’re on your off side, do you find it in some ways easier to defend a one-on-one rush or a two-on-two rush as they come down on you?
Jones: That’s a tough question, I would say it’s probably a little easier on my left side. Your whole life when you’re growing up you’re used to those edges when you turn and pivot and do certain things. You’ve got to be really confident on your skates to pivot the other way. I’ve done it for a long time and I feel pretty confident doing it. If I had to choose one I’d probably go to the left side to defend a one on one or a rush. (Laughs).
Gregor: Caleb, we saw Filip Forsberg’s lacrosse style goal last night, and to date it isn’t something as a defenceman you see very often, but you might see more of it moving forward. Do you have to be more leery of it now, or is it still an outlier and not in your mind just yet as a defender?
Jones: You’ve kind of got to be leery of it. We’ve had conversations about it as a team. Maybe if you get a read on a guy doing it you can try to cut him off there, but when Forsberg did it, it was one motion. He didn’t even put his blade over, he just flicked his toe up and grabbed it. You can’t do much there as a defenceman right?
Yeah, it’s a little bit of an anomaly. If there starts to be one or maybe two every game, I think there will be a little bit different of a way to defend it, but right now it’s one of those things that if you can get a read on it and stop it, but if not, maybe tip your hat, right? (Laughs).
Strudwick: Yeah, 100% it’s amazing. When I played there were some nights when I couldn’t stop watching players like Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermeyer or Nick Lidstrom. When you played has there been a D-man, not who distracts you from your own game, but just a guy that you watch?
Jones: I’ll go last game, Roman Josi. I love the way he plays. I really love his game. I mean he’s kind of all over the ice, but he holds himself up to that when he came into the league. I remember watching him when my brother was a rookie in Nashville and he was still young. He wasn’t playing like that then, but you could kind of tell he had that potential and then last night… He’s one of the better defencemen in the league. I love the way he is always skating and in attack mode and moves the puck well, so I try to take a couple of things from a guy like that, and hopefully one day I can do something similar.
Strudwick: Did you notice that sequence he had in the second period behind his own net? He had two or three turn backs and still got the puck and skated it out. It was like he was in a rocking chair though, it was an amazing sequence in last night’s game.
Jones: Yeah I think I remember what play you’re talking about. He might have made a backhand play up the middle I think?
Strudwick: Yes! Yeah, unbelievable. Those guys have ice in their veins.
Jones: Yeah, you’ve got to have a little bit of confidence to pull that one off. (Laughs).
Gregor: Have you ever tried the lacrosse move? Could you pull it off?
Jones: I don’t think that I could pull it off. I’ve tried it in practice a few times you know, messing around with Bearsy (Ethan Bear) or something, but that’s about it. I don’t think I could pull that one off in a game. I would just try to wrap it in.
Gregor: Have you seen someone on your team who looks like they could pull it off in a game?
Jones: Would you be shocked if Connor [McDavid] did it? I don’t think that anyone would be surprised if Connor did it? I could see Connor doing it. Or maybe even Leon [Draisaitl] he’s pretty crafty with the puck. Nuge maybe?
Gregor: Nuge told me he doesn’t think he could do it. He might be humble, but he said, ‘You need a curved toe,’ and he’s got more of a flat one.
Jones: He would know, but I bet if those guys tried they could. I think you will see more players trying it now.
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