“Knock, knock, opportunity awaits,” Dave Tippett said to Ethan Bear during a morning skate in September after learning Joel Persson was going to miss a few weeks with an injury.
You know the rest of the story. Bear played well in the final two preseason games and earned a spot in the opening night roster. He played 15:33 on opening night, but Adam Larsson got injured that night and Bear was given an even bigger opportunity and he’s flourished. His 15:33 on opening night was his season low in TOI, and he has played 20+ minutes in 44 of his 59 games this season.
He dedicated himself to eating better and getting in better shape in the offseason, and when his opportunity presented itself, he was ready for it. Caleb Jones feels he is ready to do the same now.
1. Jones’ path to the NHL was fairly similar to Bear’s. He was drafted 117th overall in 2015, seven spots ahead of Bear. They both played in the WHL and turned pro in 2017/2018 with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. Bear played 37 games in the AHL before being recalled to Edmonton for 18 games. Jones played 58 games in the AHL in 2018. Last season their roles were reversed. Bear played the entire season in the AHL, while Jones played 50 games in the AHL and 17 with the Oilers.
2. This year Jones didn’t have a great training camp and was sent to the AHL, while Bear made the team and has emerged as a solid top-four defenceman. Jones didn’t pout. Instead, he played strong and was recalled on November 14th. He had several veterans ahead of him on the left side in Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, so he had to bide his time. But when Kris Russell suffered a concussion, Jones stepped in and has played well. And now with Klefbom expected out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks, Jones is presented with the same opportunity Bear had earlier this year, and Jones feels he is much more prepared to handle those minutes now than he was last year when he played 20+ minutes in eight of his 17 games.
3. “Last year when Klef was out, I had a bit of a time with Larsson during my first call up,” said Jones. “It started out well, but I don’t think I was completely ready for it, but this year I have a lot more experience and I can handle the ups and downs of the NHL better.”
4. I sat down with Jones yesterday after practice to discuss this wonderful opportunity and he couldn’t stop smiling. He is ready. He is confident he is better prepared to handle playing 20 minutes a night. “Last year I had a couple games where I played really well when I was up around 22 or 23 minutes. For me, it is going out and just playing, not thinking too much, don’t worry about making mistakes, skate like I know I can and I think I will be successful that way,” he said.
5. Jones has been making more plays offensively the past few weeks. He has three goals in his last eight games and he’s made some dynamic passes, not only on breakouts, but also in the offensive zone. The one which stood out to me was his read in the third period against Tampa Bay and his pass through the seam to Leon Draisaitl, who was robbed by Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Jones waits as he and Draisaitl see the same play develop, and then once Draisialt slides out from behind the net, Jones fires the pass across. He wouldn’t have tried that play last year.
“You’re right,” said Jones. “Some of those plays are just instinctual. I’m trying to be myself as I keep going here. I’m starting to get comfortable with all the guys, and those are the plays I need to keep trying to make over the next few weeks with the increased role. It is good the coaches give me confidence. They tell me they want to go out, have some swagger, and feel confident in the offensive zone and make sure I keep doing a good job in the defensive zone.”
6. I asked Jones when he felt he could play in the NHL. Was there a moment or a game where he felt he could play in the Show?
“I remember a game last year on New Year’s eve against Winnipeg. I played about 24 minutes and I had a really good game,” said Jones. “I think that game I realized I actually had what it took and I started to be really confident, but I was a little too up and down last year emotionally. I was still young and not ready for it.
“My first call up I was nervous and I wasn’t being myself. I was trying to be something I’m not. What I am is a guy who likes to get up the ice and make plays. I’m an offensive guy and I was trying to focus too much on my defensive game. Sometimes the best defence is a good offence. I’ve got the confidence of the coaches now, and I’ve learned a lot defensively, and I have a lot of room to grow as a complete defender, but my game is being a puck-moving, mobile defenceman and that’s what I have to be.”
7. Being paired with Adam Larsson will allow Jones to be his natural offensive self, but like Bear, he will need to be strong defensively to play 20 minutes a night. Bear has seen Jones play more than of his other teammates over the past three seasons, and I asked him which area he has seen the biggest improvement in his fellow 2015 draft pick.
“Honestly, he has improved every aspect of his game. He defends well now. He moves the puck well, he gets his shot through regularly and he’s not afraid to attack on the rush. I trust him a lot,” said Bear.
8. Head coach Dave Tippett has seen signs which make him believe Jones is ready for the increased responsibility. “He’s played well,” began Tippett. “Young players, when they first get here are tentative, they don’t want to make a mistake. Then once they get playing to a point, they get past that and they just play. They don’t think about making mistakes, they think about making good plays and having a positive impact on the game. That is where Jonesy is at. He is past worrying about things. He knows he can make plays and get the job done. He is one of those guys who is looking for more opportunities.
“It is funny, I was speaking with Jim Playfair this morning, and the games he (Jones) has played more in he has played better. The games we have gone with four D, and he’s played fewer minutes, there has been more hesitancy in his game, but when he’s played more he’s been better. I’m hoping for that tomorrow.”
8. I’m sure we will see the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto trio matched up against the Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak line tonight. It will be a big test, and Draisaitl respects them a lot, but was quick to point out his line won’t be intimidated.
“Obviously they are one of the best lines in the league,” said Draisaitl. “They can score at any time and can make something happen at any moment. If our line is matched up against them we can hold our own. We are a very good line as well, and there is no reason for us to be scared of them.”
9. He is right. Since they became a line in 2020 they’ve been dominant. In 17 games Draisaitl has 11-22-33, RNH has produced 7-13-20 and Yamamoto has 8-9-17. They have 22, 16 and 15 points respectively at even strength. In 19 games in 2020 Pastrnak has scored 13-10-23, Bergeron has 9-6-15 and Marchand has 3-12-15. At even strength they’ve scored 12, eight and eight points respectively. The Draisaitl line has 53 points at even strength compared to 28 for Bergeron’s trio. It should be a great matchup tonight.
10. Draisaitl has embraced the challenge of taking the reins of this team with Connor McDavid injured. He’s produced 10 points in four games, but according to Dave Tippett it is Draisaitl’s work ethic that has impressed him as much as his point production. “This adversity does make you stronger,” said Tippett. “I give our guys a lot of credit. They have hunkered down and we want to play a hard, structured style and make sure work ethic is at a premium and I give Leon Draisaitl a ton of credit for that. How well he has played, the minutes he has carried, and the effect he has had on the game is impressive. When your top player in the lineup is playing that hard, the rest of the players have to match that.”
11. Here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 59 games, as well as the Bruins’ scoring.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
12. The Oilers’ depth scorers have really stepped up in the absence of McDavid, Neal and Kassian. Three of their top-scoring forwards are out, but the Oilers are still finding ways to produce. Of course Draisaitl has been great, but Edmonton now has 53 goals in their last 45 games. They weren’t sexy signings, but you have to give Ken Holland a lot of credit. With very little cap space he found some depth scorers who have produced quite well.
THE HAIR MASSACURE
Hair Massacure is taking over Edmonton this winter to support the fight against childhood cancer and grant wishes to some extraordinary young patients. On February 21, 2020 thousands of heads will be shaved, once again, in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy. All funds raised go to Children’s Wish Foundation and Terry Fox PROFYLE. You can help. Go to www.hairmassacure.com to learn more.
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