As the new year begins and we reach the midway point of the season, we're trying something new with the conclusion of our Top 25 Under 25. You might recall that our #7 Los Angeles Kings player under the age of 25 was Nikolai Prokhorkin. Well, the top six vote-getters among our staff were on the Kings' Opening Night roster, and - let's be honest - you already know quite a bit about these players. So rather than a straight "learn more about _____!" article, we're going to go over their performance so far this season and ask you whether our decisions were dead on or dead wrong.
One note: defenseman Slava Voynov came in at number 3. Voting took place during the summer, so naturally, our ballots were submitted before he was arrested and charged with felony assault. Due to his long absence and the now-tangible possibility that he may never suit up in a Kings uniform again, we're not going to write a separate article for him this week. Last season, he was second behind Drew Doughty.
Now then, to the five remaining players, who we'll discuss one at a time throughout the week. Our selection as #6 for the Top 25 Under 25 was goaltender Martin Jones. (He finished tied with the next player in the countdown, but we're giving the tiebreaker to the younger player.)
|Rank||Player||DOB||Nationality||Draft||Vote Total||Last Year|
|6||Martin Jones||10/1/1990||CAN||Undrafted||268||14 (+8)
What a difference a year makes. Martin Jones started out last season as a known quantity at the AHL level, but where his future lay was a big question mark. Here's a quote from Langluy in last season's Top 25 Under 25, where he ranked #14:
Goalies might take longer to develop than skaters, but Jones isn't a prospect fresh from juniors anymore - he's starting to reach the time in his career where he has to show real progress, or it'll be time to turn to other young guys eager and ready to supplant him.
Well, that real progress was shown. Jones started out 2013-14 on a roll; his 16-3-3 record was due to a sparkling .928 SV%, a career high at any professional level. His path to an NHL spot was still blocked, and even when Jonathan Quick's groin injury resulted in a promotion, he had to wait three weeks for a chance to start in goal for the Kings. That's when Jones pulled a 9-for-9 shootout performance out of his back pocket....
... and never looked back. Jones tied an NHL record with wins in his first eight starts and usurped Ben Scrivens' backup spot on his way to a sensational .934 SV%. When the streamers finished falling in June, Jones had an unlikely Stanley Cup ring on his finger and an owl on his arm.
How has Jones backed it up this season? Lost in Jonathan Quick's terrific start and subsequent struggles is that Jones has mirrored his trajectory, though his downswing was considerably more dramatic. Through the first two months of the season, Jones had stopped 161 of 170 shots for a .947 SV%. However, Jones had a disastrous start in Montreal on December 12 and then struggled through a relief appearance against Nashville last Saturday. In those two games, he stopped just 26 of 36 shots on goal, and now his save percentage is an unsightly .908.
It's easy to forget that Martin Jones is only 25 starts into his NHL career, and coming off the two worst performances of said NHL career, it's way too easy to weigh his struggles too heavily against his earlier consistency. What we have here is a solid backup goaltender, if not a totally proven one, and we have rarely seen Jones let down the team in front of him. (Even the Montreal game featured a lot of deflections, making his job tremendously difficult.)
Two questions, then:
- Should Martin Jones remain the backup goaltender of the Los Angeles Kings going forward?
This seems like a no-brainer at his current contract ($550,000 for this season), but Jones will be a restricted free agent in the upcoming offseason. Jones will not command the kind of salary that Jonathan Bernier or Ben Scrivens would have, but he's a likely candidate for a raise. Current Monarchs starter Jean-Francois Berube is putting up numbers (19-4-2, .923 SV%) that rival Jones' from last year, but Berube has not earned the same level of confidence. I'm guessing LA will re-sign him for a year, perhaps two, until he demands a larger paycheck.
- Is Martin Jones truly the sixth-best player under 25 on the Kings?
We ranked the players based on their perceived trade value; that is to say, if Jones is the #6 player, we would value him more highly than any of the 19 players below him on the list. We'll leave the answer to this question to you. A reminder of the top ten so far: