Beyond Tomorrow: Jones undecided on destination for 2015-16 season

By David Hahn
Max Jones - Team USA - World U17 Hockey Challenge

Photo: U.S. NTDP forward and 2016 prospect Max Jones was the leading goal scorer at the 2014 World U17 Hockey Challenge with seven, while his 11 points in the tournament were second to teammate Clayton Keller (courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

 

For Rochester, MI native Max Jones, family connections have helped carve a path in hockey. Make no mistake, the talented power forward is making a name for himself despite intrigue about where he will play in his draft-eligible season.

Jones grew up in Michigan where his father, Brad Jones, starred for the University of Michigan before hearing his name called in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets. In the 1987-88 season, Brad was a member of the United States Men’s National Team, famously tallying 50 points in 50 games. He would go on to play 148 games in the NHL over parts of six seasons with Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Brad passed the lessons learned onto his two sons, Max and his older brother, Mitch Jones.

An 11th round pick of the Plymouth Whalers in 2011, Mitch is currently in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League. Known for his rough-and-tumble style of defense, Mitch has taken the hard road en route to becoming one of the tougher customers in the league. He will remain eligible for one final “overage” season in 2015-16 where it remains to be seen if he will compete again with a rebuilding and relocating Plymouth franchise, as the team will be moving to Flint, MI for the 2015-16 season.

Knowing the decidedly different paths that his family has taken, Max has had some familiar elements along the way. Like his brother, Max was a member of the storied Honeybaked franchise, playing a year ahead of his peers as a 15 year old where he gained notoriety as a fiery competitor who is extremely difficult to play against. He tallied 13 goals and 15 assists with 48 penalty minutes in 19 games, earning a reputation as a difficult forward to contain. He took another step forward in his development the following season with the Compuware program, learning more about playing a strong two-way game in a difficult league. His numbers were down during this campaign, with only five goals and eight assists in 20 games, but he was still recognized by scouts as a player who was starting to put more of a responsible game together.

Max was recognized for his talents in 2012, being invited to the North American Hockey League showcase, an event held for the top future draft-eligible players. The event is known as one of the first major games to kick-start the season, after which Max again returned to the Honeybaked program. Playing a year ahead as a 16 year old, this time touring with the Under-18 team, Max would take an offensive step forward. He scored nine goals and thirteen assists in 25 games, with a staggering 123 penalty minutes in 25 games played.

Following that impressive season with Honeybaked, there was quite a bit of speculation among NCAA colleges and OHL teams in regards to his future. Having already committed to the U.S. NTDP Under-17 team, OHL member organizations knew that if they drafted him they would have to take a gamble and wait at least one year to retain his services. Enter the London Knights, who selected Jones 18th overall in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. Interestingly enough, the Knights also selected Honeybaked teammates and Michigan natives Ben Gleason (second round) and Michael Latorella (seventh round) in the same draft. Gleason, a defenseman, has played 30 games to date with the Knights this season after committing immediately. Latorella, a goaltender, moved to the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL and has committed to the Ohio State University Buckeyes for 2015-16.

There would be no controversy for Jones, however, as he followed through on his commitment with the U.S. U-17 team. To date, he has potted 11 goals and six assists in 20 games while again displaying his aggressive nature to the tune of 101 penalty minutes. Jones was named to the USA squad at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held in Sarnia, ON. Jones went on to lead the tournament in goal scoring, but the team fell just short in a silver medal effort. The accolades continued for Jones as, in November, he was named by Craig Button as one of the top 16 players to watch for the 2016 NHL Draft, coming in at number 11.

As one of three United States natives selected in the OHL draft, Jones remains as the lone player who has yet to make a future commitment. Jacob Chychrun was taken first overall by the Sarnia Sting, where he has paid immediate dividends. The other, Logan Brown, was traded to the Windsor Spitfires after being drafted by the Niagara IceDogs sixth overall. Both players have been key members of their respective organizations, where they both have clearly defined the path they are taking as their draft-eligible seasons approach.

For Jones, the road is not quite as clear. He remains heavily recruited by NCAA teams, yet a playoff visit with the London Knights last season raised some eyebrows. Will he follow in his father’s footsteps by committing with the University of Michigan or elsewhere in NCAA hockey? Or, will be choose the OHL route like his brother? No matter the choice, Max Jones has a bright future and will be one to watch.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey