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Jones is back on track in Plymouth

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Now recovered from a knee injury that slowed his growth last year, Mitch Jones is gaining confidence as he gains ice time with the Whalers this season. (Photo Credit: Rena Laverty)

The third time’s the charm for Mitch Jones.

After recording just six assists in his first two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, the defenseman has hit a stride in his third year, scoring three goals and adding eight assists through 29 games in 2013-14.

“The main difference is I’m on track to playing a lot more games this season,” Jones said. “I had a knee injury that took me out for two months last season and I’m getting way more ice time and way more chances and power-play time so I’m really getting myself out there in a way to get points up for myself.”

The Rochester, Michigan native was selected by Plymouth in the 11th round of the 2011 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection. Coach Mike Vellucci was impressed by Jones’ offensive and defensive skills as well as his aggressiveness, and signed the defenseman in December 2011.

“Mitch is an all-around player,” Vellucci said. “He’s got offensive ability, he has a really good shot, he plays on one of our power-play units and the other thing is he’s a tough kid. He plays the game physical and is pretty responsible defensively.

“One of the things is that he’s getting better every day, that’s what we talk about trying to get better every day and he’s improved his skating, he’s gotten stronger and he’s just developed at a pretty good pace.”

The jump from Metro Detroit’s AAA teams to the OHL may not have been an easy one, but in his third year with the Whalers, the 18-year-old only continues to improve competing with and against some of the top NHL prospects in the league.

“It’s a big difference jumping up from midgets to playing against 16- through 21-year-olds who have gotten drafted in the NHL, first round NHL draft picks,” Jones said. “Playing against those players makes you better so just learning the game too, the defensive zone, man-on-man, one-on-one, you can develop from everything. I’ve been developing slowly but surely and it’s been going well.”

And it will continue to do so as Jones prepares for the matchup against the London Knights at the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival. The defenseman feels fortunate to have the opportunity to play in such a unique outdoor atmosphere and is looking forward to seeing a view of Comerica Park from the field rather than the stands.

“I remember growing up and playing pond hockey so it’s quite different playing inside of the baseball field,” Jones said. “I’ve never been on the field at Comerica Park but I’ve been there plenty of times for games so there’s a lot to learn. But there’s a lot to see and it’s also going to be an experience and a memory so you have to make it good. I’m excited to see what it’s like and what it’s about instead of watching NHL games on TV and playing in the Winter Classic, and I actually get to experience it so I’m excited.”

Vellucci is looking forward to the event just as much as Jones and the other members of his team are, and it even carries an extra meaning for the coach, a Detroit native, to see his city celebrate the game of hockey in such a grand manner.

“We feel very fortunate to be playing in the first OHL outdoor game and to be a part of something that’s really cool in downtown Detroit,” Vellucci said. “I’m from Detroit so it’s great to see the city support all kinds of hockey from youth hockey to the alumni game to the OHL, college, you name it, it’s going to be exciting to be part of.”

Jones plans on seeing a number of friends and family in the stands for the OHL matchup, even as the temperature continues to plummet with Dec. 29 drawing ever so closer.

“They’re hoping it’s not too cold,” Jones said with a laugh. “But aren’t we all.”

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