The seventh overall pick of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Niagara IceDogs centreman Ben Jones has put in the work, bided his time and returns for his 19-year-old season as one of the league’s most dependable well-rounded pivots in 2018-19.
The Vegas Golden Knights seventh round pick signed an entry-level deal with the club this past June, clearly impressing George McPhee and his staff with 79 points including 30 goals and 49 assists in 68 contests last season.
“I only had nine points as a rookie, 50 in my sophomore year and set out to reach 80 last season but fell one short,” Jones explained. “I’ve always taken pride in worrying about my own zone first, knowing that if I do that it will translate into offence on the other side of the puck.
“Essentially my aim as a player is to be a guy that coach feels comfortable with out on the ice in the first minute, the last minute, down a goal or up a goal.”
Jones saw time in all situations last season, winning nearly 55 percent of his faceoffs while going up against the opposition’s top line regularly.
“He’s an excellent penalty killer, a great net-front power play guy and an elite faceoff man,” said IceDogs head coach Billy Burke. “He’s one of the strongest 200-foot players in the league and the kind of guy that you want on the ice in those key moments. All that plus he is an outstanding citizen and teammate.”
A native of Waterloo who still wears the #3 he sported as a defenceman in Peewee, Jones has played under three different head coaches in Niagara, spending his rookie season on an Eastern Conference Championship team led by Marty Williamson before playing under Dave Bell as a sophomore. His first season under Burke saw the team exceed expectations, earning home ice advantage in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23-7-3 record.
“Billy is a younger voice behind the bench, a guy who has played the game not too long ago and is really in touch with the players,” said Jones. “It’s a great relationship between him and the guys and I felt like we really bought in last season.”
Though his focus was on the IceDogs’ playoff run last spring as they reached the second round, Jones couldn’t help but keep tabs on the Cinderella run by the expansion Golden Knights as they fought their way through three rounds and into the Stanley Cup Final. One of five OHL players to be selected by Vegas over the past two years along with Owen Sound’s Nick Suzuki, Mississauga’s Nicolas Hague, Windsor’s Connor Corcoran and London’s Jordan Kooy, Jones couldn’t help but feel proud to be part of the organization.
“It was astonishing, just how they kept finding ways to win and proving the doubters wrong. It’s something you never see with expansion teams and we may not see it happen again. It’s an honour to be drafted by the Golden Knights.”
While the Golden Knights try and replicate the success they had in their inaugural season, Jones returns to an IceDogs club that shouldn’t have too much difficulty scoring goals with returning forwards Kirill Maksimov, Akil Thomas and the newly added Ivan Lodnia up front.
Jones, who wore an ‘A’ last season, is undoubtedly a candidate for the team’s captaincy following the graduation of Johnny Corneil.
“I’m one of the few guys left from the 2016 run to the OHL Finals,” noted Jones, “so to be able to share that experience with some of the younger players and know what it takes to go deep in the playoffs is nice to have with a team as talented as ours this year.
I’m excited. I’ve been able to talk to a lot of the other guys and I know they are too. We’re all looking forward to getting back together again and going after the same goal of an OHL Championship.”
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