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Unmasked: Jones excited for bigger role with Sharks

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

VANCOUVER – Martin Jones isn't going to do anything different this summer to get ready for the season just because he recently went from being a seldom-used backup goalie with the Los Angeles Kings to a likely No.1 for the San Jose Sharks.

Jones, 25, plans to stick with the same offseason routine that made him one of the more sought-after goalies on a busy trade market and helped to earn the Vancouver native a three-year contract reportedly worth $9 million from the Sharks despite having 34 games of NHL experience.

But Jones' normal summer routine is already notably different than most of his puck-stopping peers in the NHL.

Where many focus on technical tweaks with private goalie coaches and steer clear of the endless breakaways and backdoor tap-ins of shinny in the summer, Jones goes the other way, eschewing goalie-specific ice sessions in favor of more wide-open scrimmages.

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"As I've gotten older and my game has evolved, I have gone more away from the technical side, which I guess is a little bit strange to say but it's added a little more depth to my game, for sure," Jones told NHL.com. "Having grown up with a lot of good technical teaching early in my hockey career, I do have that good technical base, and as my game has developed, it has gotten away from that and focused on learning the other aspects, like reading the play and making saves outside the box if you have to and just battling and competing."

Ask NHL goaltending coaches what type of goalie is easier to work with and most will tell you they'd rather try to add technique to a raw, skilled goaltender than have to insert instinct and athleticism to a goalie with an already well-defined and refined technical base.

It's one of the reasons for the recently renewed interest in goalies from Russia, where the level of modern goaltending instruction has only recently caught up to other European countries like Finland and Sweden in part because Russia purchased and translated the Swedish goaltending manual. The result is goalies who grew up relying on and developing their own reactive instincts for making saves however they could. Add in the consistency that often comes with adding more technical and tactical structure to those raw tools, improving positioning and efficiency, and you get the potential for a resurgence like Sergei Bobrovksy experienced with the Columbus Blue Jackets, or Semyon Varlamov with the Colorado Avalanche.

Jones is trying to move and improve in the opposite direction.

With his father, Harvey Jones, overseeing the construction of and then running Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Martin grew up with no shortage of technical goaltending instruction. He played minor hockey with the son of then-Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford, who would later play a role in bringing him to the Kings as an undrafted free agent. It wasn't uncommon to see them taking shots on the NHL ice from the elder Crawford long after Canucks practice was over. They were joined by then-Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark and sometimes his son, Morgan, who ironically was picked by Vancouver instead of Jones in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Draft.

Through those relationships, Jones has been exposed to NHL-level goaltending coaching since he was 12, or two years after he began playing the position full-time. A lot of that work was with Clark, who wrote the manual (several actually) on modern butterfly goaltending.

Playing behind the talented, defensively responsible Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League, that technique, combined with his 6-foot-4 frame, was often all Jones needed to win 81 games during his final two seasons of major junior hockey. Putting yourself in the proper position can be enough behind a team that limits opponents' time and space to pick corners, but success as a pro usually requires another reactive layer on top of that solid technical foundation.

"His last two seasons in Calgary they were so good structurally with team defense that very rarely did he have to come out of the box, so it was hard for us to say what his compete level was because he very rarely had to do it," Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford said last season. "When he got to Manchester in the American Hockey League, there are nights you have to compete, you have to come outside of the box, and I think that's an area that he's really developed and we've learned he does have that in his game. He had to learn it a little bit and work at it, and he's done that."

Martin Jones
Martin Jones
Goalie - SJS
Record: -
GAA: - | Sv%: -
Technically, Ranford was impressed with Jones' "whole package right off the bat," adding it didn't "require a lot of tweaking." The Kings asked Jones to improve his puck-handling and flexibility, which ties into his ability to make those outside-the-box saves, but the existing structure was already a big part of a game Ranford called "calming."

"When he's on his game, he has a very calming effect, a very calm demeanor," Ranford said. "He's not overly busy in the net, and he sucks pucks in. Just plays a real simple, quiet, positional game."

Balancing that style with other still-developing aspects of his game will only be one of the challenges Jones faces in San Jose. He also has to learn to balance managing his game with managing his rest.

It's a process other goalies have talked about as key to transitioning from the backup role, which comes with plenty of time to work with the goaltending coach between starts. For a lot of young goalies, the fine technical details can slip without that extra position-specific work before and after practice, time that is harder to find when you are playing every second night and more focused on rest.

Of course, technique has never been a problem for Jones. He's simply excited about the chance to play more regularly again.

Some have pointed out that most of his NHL success to date, which includes a career .923 save percentage and the 8-0 start he had behind the 2013-14 Stanley Cup champion Kings. Jones had a .965 save percentage in those first eight NHL starts but has a .905 save percentage in 26 appearances since then, a discrepancy that led some to question the trade and contract by San Jose.

Often overlooked, however, is the fact Jones' hot streak to start his career is also the one time he got to play regularly.

Since his first month in the NHL, Jones averaged roughly 16 days between starts, hardly an ideal way to add those read and compete skills that are best developed in game situations.

No wonder he's not worried about finally playing more.

"Guys at this level are not as used to being in that backup role, so it is harder to kind of go the other way and not play as many games and kind of get that rhythm," Jones said. "So it is tough when you are not playing and you can sit on a bad game for a couple of weeks. It's definitely a different experience, so I am looking forward to taking on a little more responsibility. But nothing changes in my game."

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