Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Jones has been a hard man to keep out of the lineup over the past couple of weeks. Rehabbing from an eye injury suffered in December, he has been practicing hard waiting for his chance to get back.
He finally got that chance and made a successful return to the lineup yesterday in a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Out the whole season, Jones has been chomping at the bit to get back into game action. He played a total of 14:03 in his debut on a line with Eric Belanger and Ben Eager and while there were some moments of rust, he was effective when on the ice and had some good scoring chances.
The real measure of his effect on returning to the lineup however, will be on special teams, specifically the penalty kill. He played a total of 5:17 on the PK in the game against the Coyotes, tops amongst Oiler forwards. It is an area on the team that has been successful this season but has also been ravaged by injuries. The Oilers top four penalty killing forwards have all spent some time on the shelf throughout the season. Jones just played his first game, Shawn Horcoff is still out, as is Lennart Petrell. Their other top penalty killing centre in Belanger has also missed time although he is back in the lineup now. Add in Ryan Smyth’s inconsistent play and diminished minutes and the group Ralph Krueger thought he had in that role has yet to be healthy.
The fact that they are at 87.5% is remarkable considering the players that have been out of the lineup. Part of that success can also be attributed to the improved goaltending this season as both Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin have been excellent.
It has also forced forwards like Sam Gagner to spend some time in that position, whom the Oilers would rather keep in an offensive role. Even though Petrell and Horcoff are still out, having Jones back is a big help and a significant upgrade, evidenced by his ample time on the ice shorthanded yesterday.
Jones also brings an element of energy and aggressiveness to the play in general, something that has been missing in their 5 on 5 play. He works hard every shift, finishes his checks and causes turnovers on the forecheck. Sure there are players like a Ben Eager who bring that skill set, but they are not going to play significant enough minutes to make that much of an impact. With 17 goals in last year’s campaign, Jones has shown he can contribute in a top 9 role.
With the Oilers struggles at even strength and their lack of production from the bottom six forwards, and help Jones can inject will be welcome.