Sunday, July 07, 2013

Oilers add Jones to a suddenly overcrowded forward group

2013 was a tough year for Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Jones. Thanks to the NHL Lockout, Jones was unable to start what would have been his third full season in Orange and Blue and final year of his contract, on time. To make matters worse, he suffered a freak eye injury in late December, delaying the start of his year even further and ultimately cost him the first month of the season.

With unrestricted free agency looming and coming off a pair of surprisingly productive campaigns, it wasn't the start the former fourth round pick of the Minnesota Wild was hoping for. The combination of a lack of game action and an obvious on ice discomfort level since hurting his eye, Jones put together what was easily his worst season as a member of the Oilers.

Just like that, #28 went from being the club's lone offensively productive bottom six forward, to looking as though his days in the Alberta capital were all but over. Craig MacTavish made it very clear he planned on changing the look and feel of the team's third and fourth lines during the off-season and with veteran Ryan Smyth still part of the equation, Jones looked to be the odd man out.

Making yesterday's news of the fan favourite signing a one year extension, all the more surprising. No one knows if the former two-time seventeen goal man can regain his scoring prowess but one thing is very evident, he would like nothing better than to find out as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
"It's a great place. A great city with passionate hockey fans and a culture built around the hockey team that anybody would be lucky or blessed to play for. I left a little bit to be a desired last year and I wanted to come back and redeem myself and prove to people that I still have a ton of game left in me."

He said all the right things on Saturday afternoon, after breaking the news of his own signing via twitter. The twenty-nine year old readily admitted to being somewhat tentative since returning from injury and said  "I need to become a menace when I'm out there, be hard to play against, always be around the net and just be a guy that when the other team leaves the ice they don't enjoy when you're out there".

That's all well and good but the former Nashville Predator castoff, has yet to demonstrate the capability of playing such a role. He has never been one to consistently play a physical style of game but has been at his best, when going hard to net in search of loose pucks. Jones has always had decent skating ability and has managed to turn himself into a fairly effective penalty killer.

That being said, the thought of using the word "menace" and Ryan Jones in the same sentence, has never crossed my mind.

However, should he be able to rediscover his scoring touch and add that little something to his game, making him far more difficult to play against, he would all but guarantee himself a spot within the Oilers top twelve forwards. This organization is starving for bottom six forwards who can either make life difficult for opposing players or contribute offensively.

In a perfect world, they would like to find players who can do both but those guys are few and far between. At the moment, they do not have a single player on their roster, that can fill either of those roles. The opportunity is there for the taking,  now it is just a matter of someone grabbing it. Could Jones be that guy? Possibly but the fact the organization is even giving him a shot, is a little surprising.

With their GM looking to add some "meat" to his lineup and Smyth still in the mix, bringing Jones back seemed to make little to no sense. In my mind, they serve the same purpose on an NHL roster and at this stage of their careers, Jones would have been my choice. The organization obviously felt more comfortable going with the veteran or at least felt obliged to hold him a spot. However, yesterday's move makes you wonder if that is indeed still the case.

Barring Magnus Paajarvi being moved in a deal to upgrade their top six forwards or blueline, it looks as though the final four regular forward spots and the 13th/14th forward roles, will be up for grabs. With two of those all but guaranteed to go to centre icemen, that leaves just four spots available on the wing. One would guess Mike Brown will slide into one of those vacancies, meaning Ryan Hamilton, Jesse Joensuu, Jones, Smyth, possibly Ben Eager and whomever else MacT decides to bring on board between now and training camp, will battle for those final three spots.

After signing Joensuu to a two year/one-way deal on Friday afternoon, it sounds as though the Finn will have the inside track on earning a bottom six spot and with Hamilton having got a look with the Toronto Maple Leafs during both the season and playoffs, one would suspect the AHL veteran will come to camp with the mind-set of settling for nothing less than an NHL job.

Who said competition wasn't a good thing? While the collective group of potential bottom six forwards may not be the sexiest of names, they could make next September's training camp pretty interesting. Potentially leaving both Craig MacTavish and head coach Dallas Eakins with some very tough decisions.

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