The Long Road Pays Off For Martin Jones

After going undrafted in the 2008 NHL Draft the Los Angeles Kings invited goaltender Martin Jones to training camp and he impressed them so much in rookie camp that they invited him to their main training camp. A backup for two seasons in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen, he continued his strong play in the main camp and they signed him to a three-year deal before returning him to the Hitmen — where he went on to set multiple records while recording 81 wins and 15 shutouts in 103 regular season games.

As excellent as he was those last two seasons in the WHL, Jones was still unable to make the Kings NHL roster because he was stuck behind two Jonathan’s — Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier — and he continued his long road to the big show in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs. After spending parts of four seasons with the Kings’ affiliate, no one could blame Jones if he wondered if he would ever be able to tend goal on an NHL ice surface; but according to him, that thought never crossed his mind. “I don’t think I ever thought it was never going to happen; you’re eager to make that jump and it’s tough to stay patient sometimes,” the current San Jose Sharks goalie told The Hockey Writers. “I think you always have to have that belief that you’re going to make it.”

His game is better for him having that AHL experience as he went on to explain following a 2-1 shootout win on the road against the New Jersey Devils. “It’s a good league, obviously the schedule is a little bit different with the three games in three nights but, it’s a hard league; a really tough league. You have a lot of guys that are hungry to make that next step and it shows in the play.” Once he finally got that first call up to the NHL, he had to wait a little bit longer — three weeks longer — until he finally played in his first game; when he made his debut he not only impressed, he made it really hard for the Kings to send him back to Manchester.

He beat one of the Kings’ biggest rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2 in a shootout in his first game — stopping all nine shooters he faced. Four days later he started his second game and picked up his first shutout, blanking the New York Islanders; and followed that up by shutting out the Montreal Canadiens in his next start. After a brief stint in the AHL he was recalled in February and never looked back, as he served as Quick’s backup for the remainder of the 2013-14 season and was a part of Los Angeles’ second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

The Kings traded Jones (and his expiring contract), defenseman Colin Miller and their 2015 first round pick to the Boston Bruins for Milan Lucic in a draft day trade and four days later the Bruins got a first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. The Sharks immediately signed their new goalie to a three-year contract, basically insuring that the 25-year-old would begin the 2015-16 season as a starter for the first time. “My expectations for myself are high and I know what I want to accomplish,” he told THW. “I try not to worry about anything other than that.” He also told us that he doesn’t think of his long road to this point in time much, if at all. “I don’t really think about that too often to be quite honest with you. My focus is the (next) game and I try not to think about the past or the future, I just try to focus on the games as they come.”

His focus was razor-sharp as he and the Sharks started the season with four consecutive wins, which included two shutouts, and he has been a real calming influence on his new teammates. “He’s a real calm guy, I think to be a goalie you kind of have to be; they’re all a little different,” defenseman Brent Burns told THW with a grin. “He’s been great, real natural with the guys; he’s fit in really well (here). It’s been a great start.”

Burns continued on, heaping more praise on what kind of difference Jones has made for their San Jose teammates. “He’s been so good for us; when we do make mistakes he’s bailed us out with some huge saves. He’s been incredible. His play (through the first four games) has been pretty top-notch. It’s pretty incredible playing in front of a guy like that; you have that confidence that if somebody gets around you, he’s going to stop it.”

Jones himself was quick to pump everyone’s brakes, reminding us all that the season wasn’t even two weeks old yet, despite his scorching start. “I feel good about my game but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here; it’s four games,” the native of north Vancouver explained. “Part of being a starting goaltender is doing over the course of 82 games, I just want to make sure I continue to focus on what we’ve got here. It’s just a start, and we want to continue to build off this. That’s the end game – to be the starting goalie, and win a Stanley Cup. So it’s been a good start, but we just want to make sure we move on and forward.”

Holy Toffoli! Martin Jones robs ex-teammate Tyler Toffoli in the first game of the season:

The Sharks went on to lose their next three games, before winning against Carolina to improve Jones’ record to 5-2-0 — and in a long season these things generally even out. Let’s not forget they have had some injuries to some key players also – notably Logan Couture and Paul Martin. But rest assured Jones has the perspective and attitude that an NHL starting goalie needs if he is going to be successful in this league. “I don’t really think there’s any secret. My focus is to take the game as it comes and focus on the process; whether it’s a 1-1 game or a 5-0 game the process needs to stay the same. I just want to make sure my focus is take the game as it comes,” said Jones. “I didn’t deserve to be a starter, I wanted to work for it, and earn my ice-time here; I didn’t want to be handed anything and I want to continue to earn it. (I have to) continue with the detail at practice and continue to do the little things that have gotten me some success early on.”

After missing the playoffs for the first time in what seemed like eons, the Sharks had to and did make some changes: they added a new coach in the offseason (Peter DeBoer) a new goalie in Jones, a new defenseman (Martin) and a new forward (Joel Ward). “I think we made changes in our system that maybe fit our guys real well and have us really loving coming to the rink,” Burns said after the game in New Jersey. “You want to win, I think sometimes different sh*t happens and things don’t go well — I think last year was a year that didn’t go well, but to say we are more motivated (than previous years)…I don’t think so.”

The Sharks play in a tough division with upcoming teams like Calgary and Edmonton and supposed contenders like Anaheim and LA, but with the additions they’ve made — especially in-goal with the calm, cool and collected Jones— they should be able to challenge for a playoff spot in the always wild, wild west.

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: