ANAHEIM -- Most gifted young hockey players envision their route to the NHL as a ladder; each rung representing a minor-league level that must be ascended to reach the top.
Anaheim Ducks forward prospect Max Jones has a different view of his path to the League. He sees a trampoline ready to spring him straight to the highest level.
Jones, who turned 19 on Feb. 17, was the No. 24 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound left wing spent last season with London of the Ontario Hockey League and had 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 33 games. The season before, he had 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) in 63 games.
He climbed to the next rung of the ladder when he was called up to San Diego of the American Hockey League for the Calder Cup Playoffs in May. He had a goal and an assist in nine postseason games and said he didn't feel out of place, even though most of his teammates were in their 20s and even 30s.
"I felt like I stood my ground, put some guys down," Jones said during Anaheim's four-day development camp last month. "I was playing big and strong and powerful."
Jones was permitted to join the Gulls on an amateur tryout after his 2016-17 season with London ended. But because a player's options the following season are either the NHL or junior hockey if he's under 20, Jones is still too young to play in the AHL this season. Thus, only two destinations remain; back to his junior team in London or straight to the League with Anaheim. His performance for the Ducks in training camp undoubtedly will determine whether he goes back east or stays west.
"This is the summer where I need to kick it up a notch because I'm really not looking to try to go back to London," he said.
Keeping his name in the lineup has been Jones' biggest obstacle since he first reported to London before the 2015-16 season. He missed six weeks with a broken arm last season and served two suspensions in the past 17 months for checks against opposing players.
His first suspension prompted Ducks general manager Bob Murray to tell the Orange County Register shortly after Jones was drafted, "He's got to grow up a little bit. He's immature."
Murray then added, "I'd rather have to tame a guy down than have to try to prop a guy up."
Video: Ducks draft F Max Jones No. 24
Jones grew up in Rochester, Michigan, the same city as current NHL defensemen Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings and Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets. Rochester also was the hometown of former 10-year NHL veteran Jimmy Carson, who made a splash in the League at an early age by scoring 92 goals before his 20th birthday.
Jones' father, Brad, played at the University of Michigan from 1983-87 and later appeared in 148 NHL games with the Jets, Kings and Philadelphia Flyers.
Although it wasn't the NHL, Jones' brief experience with San Diego during the AHL playoffs was encouraging.
"Going to San Diego was a real eye-opener," he said. "I was just trying to keep my eyes open, ears open, mouth closed and just kind of be aware of my surroundings, and when I stepped on the ice to play, it was just like I did it 100 times."
He's hoping to experience a similar sensation in Anaheim this season.