With Game 3 set to go at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario, the city’s Knights are awaiting the return of their OHL rookie of the year candidate – Max Jones. Jones, who was suspended in the first round of the OHL playoffs following a hit to the head on Owen Sound forward Justin Brack.
The OHL responded to the first-time offender with a lengthy 12-game suspension leaving the Knights without one of the offensive threats for the remainder of the playoffs – essentially. The only way the Knights will see Jones return is if the team manages to make it to Game 7 against the Erie Otters in their current series (the Western Conference Finals) or if the Knights manage to make it to the OHL Finals – something they are poised to do even without the assistance of Jones up front.
Without Jones, the Knights have had to look elsewhere to replace his all-around game. A physical, back checking forward, Jones had the hands and skill to set up his mates and finish in front of the opposing net.
Sure, the Knights still have the services of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk who all sit in the top four in playoff scoring, but hockey’s a depth game and secondary scoring is so important. For that, the Knights had to put the onus on some of their secondary players. And, simply put, they’ve responded.
Without Max Jones
Since losing Jones at the end of the first round, the Knights have torn up their playoff schedule. A four-game sweep of the Kitchener Rangers (which was unforeseen by many) and two overpowering wins in Erie, the Knights sit in a good spot to reestablish themselves as OHL favourites and earn a spot in the OHL Finals.
However, these young men can’t take anything for granted and that’s something that London coach Dale Hunter has instilled in all of his former teams. He knows – like most in hockey – that scoring can’t start and finish with that top line.
“In any league you play in, you need your depth guys to come up big and Daniel had a big game,” said Hunter of Daniel Bernhardt who notched two goals in their Game 2 win over Erie. “It really helps when you have that secondary scoring.”
While the Knights have still found success thanks to their top line (combining for 78 points through 12 games), guys like Cliff Pu (11 points in 12 games), Olli Juolevi (nine points in 12 games) and Aaron Berisha (eight points in 12 games) have helped the Knights progress to the point they’re at now.
Maxing Out With Max Back
It’s not written in stone just yet, but the Knights are doing what they can to jump ahead of Erie in this series. By doing so, they’ve given fans hope that they’ll see Jones again and they’ve given Jones hope that he’ll have the opportunity to redeem himself on the ice if, in fact, the Knights find a way to etch their name in the OHL Finals card.
@DannyStuckless Max Jones will serve game 9/12 tonight. Nick Betz 1/3 – he received five games – two can be punished by fine.
— Mike Stubbs (@stubbs980) April 26, 2016
By doing that, they’d see the return of an 18-year-old who notched 52 points (28g-24a) in just 63 games and his first year in the OHL. The suspension certainly hurts his draft value as he was projected to be a first-round NHL pick in the upcoming draft.
That being said, if he’s able to return and make an impact in the OHL Finals or possibly the Memorial Cup (if London’s able to advance), he’ll have the chance to reignite talk surrounding his game. Regardless, Jones is an integral part of this Knights lineup. Without him, they’ve manage to surprise and impress the junior hockey world. But with him, they might just be unstoppable.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.