When Randy Jones
arrived at Philadelphia Flyers
training camp in September, nothing was assured for him.
The Flyers had re-tooled after the worst season in club history, and very few players had locked-in roster spots, especially among the defensemen. But Jones put together a strong training camp, had a career season, and has become a strong second-pairing defenseman for the Eastern Conference finalists.
“He’s a young player who’s really matured as a pro and he’s having a strong playoff,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “We always thought he had good mobility. He has a good stick when he defends, he’s a second-unit power-play guy, he’s got good vision with the puck. He doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet in terms of offensive production, but he’s one of those guys who can make tape-to-tape passes that allow you to initiate attacks out of your own end.”
Jones has done a little bit of everything for the Flyers in the postseason. He has just one assist in the first two rounds, but was third in the League with a plus-8 rating. In addition, he was whistled for just two minor penalties during series wins over Washington and Montreal while leading the team’s defensemen with seven takeaways.
But things weren’t always this good for Jones. An undrafted free agent who signed with the Flyers on July 24, 2003 after two seasons at Clarkson University, he spent the next three years bouncing between the Flyers and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. Jones would get token chances with the big club when there was an injury, but eventually he found himself back in the AHL.
“He’d have three or four games where you’d say; ‘Holy cow,’ but then he’d fall way off,” said Derian Hatcher, who has been partnered with Jones during the playoffs. “This year he’s been a better defenseman consistently.”
Previously, the only consistent thing for Jones was Stevens. This is the fifth-straight season Jones and Stevens have been together as coach and player in the Philadelphia organization.
“Johnny and I always have had a strong relationship,” Jones said. “I know what he expects out of me and I know what I expect out of him. There’s a respect factor there. He does rely on me and he puts extra responsibility on me because I have played for him before. He knows what I can do and the trust factor is there.”
Having a good relationship with the coach is one thing. Jones still had to earn his spot on the roster, and to do that he had to prove he could bring his best effort on a consistent basis.
“The schedule here is so much different here than it is in the American League,” said Stevens. “The schedule here never stops. It’s every other day, you get two days off and you play, day off and you play, where in the American League you get three or four days off and then you play three or four in a row, or four games in five nights. That’s a different kind of adversity you have to deal with, playing every night, three nights in a row, playing up here where you never get mental breaks, where you have to be ready every night.
"It’s an adjustment. I think young players sometimes struggle with that. I think as they get used to the schedule, they get used to being mentally ready to play all the time, their level of consistency is there in their game. Jonesy is another young player that went through the process. He’s at the level now where he’s a consistently good player every night.”
It was there in the regular season, when he posted career-bests with five goals, 26 assists, 31 points and a plus-8 rating. And it’s continued into the playoffs, where he’s playing more than 20 minutes per game, about a minute per game more than the regular season.
“Jonesy has worked his way into the rotation,” Stevens said. “We use him in key situations – he kills penalties, he plays power play, and that usually means you end up playing significant minutes. He’s done a good job playing against the other teams’ better players. He’s certainly a guy we count on and we trust and we have confidence in.”
Jones says there was no great ‘A-ha!’ moment for him, no flipping of any switch. More than anything else, the consistency came from confidence from the coaching staff and confidence in himself and his skills.
“I know I can play here,” he said. “I feel the coaching staff and the team knows I can play here. I just had to come into camp and be in top shape, which I was, and I had to put it all out there and play as consistently as I ever have. That’s the key. Any guy can go out there and have a good game, and then go and in a slump for two or three games after that. Consistently putting 10-, 12-game, 20-game segments, really good games in a row, it’s tough to do. It’s a focus that you have to make sure you keep up with. I think consistency has been my best feature.
“Great players go out there and play great all the time. You have the OK players who go out there and have a great game and are off for two games. It’s a focus, it’s a mind thing you have to get over. You have to prepare yourself for each and every game. It’s a long season, but that’s where the better players really prove themselves. It’s a consistent thing and it’s something I needed to work on and it’s something I think I’ve done a good job with this year.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.