For most of the first half of the season, Coyotes defenseman Matt Jones was working on his development with the Coyotes top AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, waiting for an opportunity to step up and assume a larger role at the NHL level. With defenseman Derek Morris undergoing surgery on Thursday to repair ligament damage in his ankle, a procedure that will likely sideline the Coyotes blueliner for six weeks, Jones will now have the chance he has been waiting for.
The decision to bring Jones into the mix fulltime wasn't a concern for the Coyotes, who knew the 22-year old native of Downers Grove, Illinois was on his way to becoming an impact player at the NHL level.
"It was a little bit of a unique situation with (Matt) Jones," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky. "Our original plan was to try and give him a full year to develop in the AHL, much like we were able to do with (Keith) Ballard last season. But with the injuries we sustained this year, it rushed Matt through a little quicker, but he has the talent to make the jump."
In addition to the increase in minutes Jones will see, there will be the chance to play a larger role in the outcome of every game as Phoenix makes a second-half surge towards the post season.
"It's a great opportunity for him," said Gretzky. "He will be asked to play more minutes, see more time on penalty kills and be put in critical game situations. The best part for Matt is that he will be given a chance to contribute to this team's success every night and that means a lot to him."
Having the chance to play with the Coyotes on a consistent basis will also allow Jones to develop the same physical game that he displayed in training camp and fine-tuned with San Antonio.
"The physical play is a big part of Matt's game and something that we look forward to him bring to this level," said Gretzky.
Now taking his place alongside fellow Phoenix defensemen Paul Mara, Sean O'Donnell, Denis Gauthier, Zbynek Michalek and Ballard, Jones know that to be successful he has to play within his abilities and be ready to seize the opportunities that come his way.
"Anytime you come up to the NHL level, you obviously want to make an impression," said Jones. "For me, this is an opportunity to really step up. I just want to do the best I can and hopefully everything will work out.