Jones Proves More Expendable Than Untouchable

The Oilers are dealing with a few minor bumps and bruises right now. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is healing from a hand procedure, Zack Kassian is dealing with a back issue, Mike Smith is fighting with a minor leg/groin issue, and Matt Benning has been placed on IR with a head issue of some kind. None of them will be available for Wednesday’s game against the Senators.

The team did a bit of shuffling today. Benning went to the IR, and Stuart Skinner was sent back to Bakersfield. That was an inevitable move with Smith’s injury being minor.

The most intriguing of Tuesday’s roster moves was sending Caleb Jones back to Bakersfield and bringing Joel Persson back up to Edmonton. Both defencemen have been used on the right side in Edmonton this season. It’s not as if Persson is being called up to replace Benning. The Oilers have chosen Persson over Jones for the time being.

This was a good opportunity for Jones to show the Oilers a bit more than what he was able to show in training camp this fall. Alas, he failed to capitalize on that opportunity this time around. He put up 0 points and was -3 in 9 games.

Benning left Sunday’s game in Vancouver after the 2nd period. The Oilers were down to 5 defencemen. Coach Tippett only used 4 of those 5 defencemen in the 3rd period. Jones played a grand total of 7:06 in that game. Sitting on the bench when the team is short on guys is not a positive sign.

The fine gentlemen over at The Cult of Hockey had Jones with 17 mistakes on Grade A scoring chances against compared to just 3 contributions to Grade A scoring chances for in his 9 games. Being just shy of 2 major mistakes on high quality scoring chances against is not very good in my estimation. Persson had a worse mark with 24 mistakes on such chances in 10 games, but he at least had a couple of assists to go with those mistakes. He’s also 25 years old compared to Jones, who is 22. That may have played into this decision.

Jones had one particularly poor game in Colorado where he went -3. His partner, Oscar Klefbom, also went -3 in that game. In all fairness to Jones, he was the last man back on two 2-on-1s that the Avs scored on. Those can hardly be blamed on him. However, he failed to tie up Nathan Mackinnon’s stick on the other goal, and Mackinnon made him pay.

Games like that will happen to anyone from time to time. I don’t think that’s why he was sent back down. I thought Jones was pretty pedestrian. Not horrible, but not great either. I think this decision is more about what he wasn’t able to do than anything that he really did wrong.

To my eye, it looked as if Jones was slower to make decisions with the puck this year than he was last season when he was up with the Oilers. He just didn’t seem to have the same level of confidence with the puck this year that he did last year. I also can’t find any evidence to suggest that his defensive game is where it needs to be if he wants to be a full-time NHLer at this point in time.

The one key difference that I feel might have hindered Jones this time around was the fact that he was deployed on the right side instead of the left side where he was deployed last season. He plays the right side in Bakersfield, but he seemed to be more confident on the left side at the NHL level.

I was excited about the potential of the Klefbom-Jones pairing, but I feel that Jones shouldn’t have been on the 2nd pairing. He struggled last season when he was placed in that spot, and he didn’t exactly thrive there this season.

Many fans and pundits believe that Jones is NHL ready. He might be, but that is a pretty vague term. Is he ready to play on the 2nd pairing with Oscar Klefbom consistently? I think that this stint in Edmonton showed us that he is not there yet. Is he ready to play on the 3rd pairing? That would be a better spot for him right now, but the fact that Tippett didn’t play him in the 3rd period on the 2nd night of a back to back where they lost a defenceman to injury suggests that the coach doesn’t feel that way.

The bottom line is that Jones didn’t do enough to steal a roster spot from someone during this call-up.
My question now is where do we go from here with Jones?

Jones is going to be an RFA at the end of the season. He has clearly proven that he can be a top pairing defenceman in the AHL. He has very little left to prove at that level. He has shown some potential at the NHL level, but he hasn’t stolen a roster spot like Ethan Bear has this year.

Jones has a lot to offer. His strengths are his mobility and his puck moving, but ultimately, he’s not ready to earn a full-time NHL spot yet. He’s only 22 years old, he will get there.

The question for me is whether or not that will happen in an Oilers uniform.

There are a few different scenarios that could play out with Jones next season. He could make the Oilers and steal a roster spot from Kris Russell. That would certainly be the ideal scenario.

There could be no change on left defence in advance of next season, which would mean there would be no opening for Jones. That would mean another AHL season for Jones. That’s not a horrible scenario, but there’s potential for the player to become unhappy and for his upward trajectory to stall. It has the potential to turn ugly. I’m not saying that it would, it just could.

The third scenario is a trade. By not stealing a roster spot in his latest call up, Jones has proven himself to be more expendable than untouchable.

The Oilers have a clear deficiency in scoring wingers, and they desperately need a legitimate 3C. A young, mobile, puck moving defenceman like Jones has real value in today’s NHL. With the depth that the Oilers have at LD, Jones is entirely expendable. Jones could be moved alone or as a part of a package to fill a different hole on the roster.

Trading Jones would not make the current roster weaker. If he were the only prospect on LD, I’d say the Oilers absolutely should hold on to him for the sake of not mortgaging the future. THAT is not the case though! Moving Jones would not destroy the future of the club or deplete the pipeline.

William Lagesson, Dmitri Samorukov, and Philip Broberg are all legitimate threats for roster spots in the next few seasons. With Klefbom on board and Nurse likely to sign long-term this summer, there isn’t room for all of them in the Oilers’ future plans.

Those fans that want to move Nurse for a scoring forward because of where Jones is in his development should be rethinking that stance after watching Jones in his latest stint with the Oilers. He’s not ready to be a 2LD yet, and winning teams have guys slotted properly. They don’t trade top 4 defenders entering their primes because they like a kid that looked good in a 3rd pairing role but struggled in a 2nd pairing role over the course of his 25 NHL games over 2 seasons.

If the Oilers could make a move to improve the roster without making it weaker in another area or seriously depleting the prospect pool, they would be stupid to not pull the trigger!

I’ve got no problem with Jones. I like him as a player. I think he has value. I just think that if he doesn’t command a roster spot this season, then the team should explore using that value to address another area of the roster.

The fact of the matter is that the Oilers have two of the best players in the game right now, and those two are ready to win. The Oilers need to get those two a team that is ready to win now as well. If they can reasonably add to the roster without sacrificing their long-term success, then it makes all of the sense in the world to do it. Trading Jones is that move.

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