It is a pretty safe bet that most Edmonton Oilers fans would be in agreement that the single biggest surprise of the 2010-2011 campaign were the numbers that Ryan Jones was able to produce in his first full season in an Oilers uniform. Not only did he have a career high 18 goal season but because the roster was torn apart with injuries he played in all situations. At some point during the year, Jones saw ice time on all four lines, he killed penalties and saw significant power play time. This from a guy the Oilers picked up off the waiver wire late in the previous season. In fact, many felt he was very lucky to make the squad out of camp as a regular. While he was banged up during training camp, he showed very little that would guarantee him a spot in the Oilers top 12 forwards.
Jones was slated for nothing more than a fourth line role and some additional ice time coming on the penalty kill. Yet, by seasons end he had become one of the coaching staff’s most trusted players. Unfortunately, he is just the type of player the coaching staff in Edmonton has overvalued for far too many years now. Instead of feeding extra ice time and different scenarios to some of the younger Oiler forwards, the staff decided to play the hell out of Jones. This coaching staff must ensure that they do not fall into the same mindset but rather put players in roles that best suit them.
After such a strong season, one has to wonder what type of role the Oilers staff has in mind for Jones. If he is looked upon for anything more than what was expected of him the previous season, they are setting him up for failure while taking an opportunity away from certain players to further develop their games. Jones at best is a third line winger and with the Oilers current roster being what it is, he is nothing more than a fourth line player. Unless something changes, there is no room for him in the top three lines so expectations need to be realistic. He should see nowhere near the ice time or opportunity as last season so to count on another 18 goal campaign would not be fair. If Jones is able to push the 10 goal mark this year, continue to improve on his penalty killing and be a pain to play against on the fourth line…he will have done his part. I am expecting Eric Belanger and Ben Eager to play alongside Jones in what will not be your typical fourth line that plays 5 minutes a night. I expect the trio to be a very solid line and a pain for most teams to deal with on a nightly basis. They will take a regular shift 5 on 5 every night but the power play time Jones enjoyed last season will be a thing of the past.
During the offseason, the Oilers were able to ink Jones to a two year deal worth $1.5 million a season. Not a bad deal and arguably a perfect length for a player that has found a home in Edmonton. Jones is one of the most popular players among his teammates and has become a leader within the dressing room. He has become a fan favourite and if my memory serves me correctly, he was the first Edmonton Oiler player to put up a twitter account. Ryan comes across as a guy who will do anything for his team to be successful but wants to have a good time. It is very evident that he loves playing the game and the opportunity it gives him to interact with the Oilers faithful on a regular basis. He seems to get what privilege it is to play in the NHL and how important the Edmonton Oilers and its players are to this community.
It seems pretty clear in my mind, that the $3 million the organization decided to guarantee Ryan Jones over the next two seasons was money well spent.
2011-2012 Prediction: 10 G - 11 A - 21 Pts