The 2015-16 London Knights were well-documented as one of the most stacked OHL teams in recent memory, winning 18 straight games en route to the Memorial Cup title. Led by a lethal first line of MVP Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, and Matthew Tkachuk, there was little need for secondary scoring. As a result, second line forwards like Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Jones and Buffalo Sabres draft pick Cliff Pu operated without the team relying on them for goals.
Anaheim Ducks Prospect Max Jones Flourishing in New Offensive Role
Now however, it seems that all three of the top line will be staying in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, and Calgary Flames respectively. That means that the burden will shift to last year’s secondary scorers to make up for the 121 goals scored, and now lost, by Marner, Dvorak, and Tkachuk the trio produced in 2015-16.
Through 10 games of the 2016-17 season, the Knights sit fifth in the OHL Western Conference with a 7-2-1-1 record. They have a game in hand on most of their divisional rivals, but have scored just 44 goals in total, among the bottom half of teams.
Max Jones, however, has appeared to flourish in his new primary role. It seems that selecting him at 24th overall, which was later than expected, will have been good value for Anaheim. He has 15 points now through six games in his second year in London, tied for the team lead. As the first-line left winger beside Cliff Pu and recent import draft pick Janne Kuokkanen, Jones has grown into one of the team’s leaders.
And with a lot of young players coming into the lineup this season, Jones has tried to set an example for them. “I know what it was like for me when I came here last year,” he said after a 5-1 victory over the Saginaw Spirit on Friday. “Being here you’ve got to look up to the older guys and see what they do, and my job now is to just lead by example; be a role model for the younger guys here. They see us riding the bike and they’ll get on the bike. It just starts habits, and it creates a domino effect throughout the years.”
Jones has seen time on both the power-play and penalty kill this season, flourishing in both roles. His 6’3″ frame is an asset to the aggressive, net-crashing style he likes to play. Since last year though, he’s noticeably improved the skill-based aspects of his game. His skating has come along nicely, and he has grown into a more well-rounded player.
A season ago, Jones was primarily a physical presence in front of the net, picking up the majority of his points from the crease. Now, however, he’s far more versatile and can coordinate the rush on his own. “All last year you’d sit there and watch Marner and Dvorak put on a show,” said Jones. “You kind of pick up a couple of things. We didn’t even have to take tips,” he added. “We just watched the whole time.”
The Knights are no longer the 5 goal-per-game team they were last year, but they remain contenders in the OHL. Their defensive corps is mostly intact from 2015-16, and has developed into a more coherent unit. With a player like Jones leading offensively, they won’t be the world-beating juggernaut Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak were, but they can certainly compete.