The setting was a Golden Knights development camp scrimmage in early summer rather than a game with something significant at stake. But the decision was noteworthy regardless.
While nursing a one-goal lead in the final minute Saturday at City National Arena, Team Gray had two defensive zone faceoffs.
Each time, center Ben Jones was called upon to take the draw. And he won them both to help his squad hold on for the victory.
“I’ve always been a defensive-first guy,” Jones said.
A seventh-round pick by the Knights in 2017, Jones put up eye-popping offensive numbers last season with Niagara of the major junior Ontario Hockey League.
But defense remains his calling card, and it’s his two-way game that sets Jones apart from most of his fellow prospects in the Knights’ system.
“What we know about Ben is he’s got incredible character, he’s squeezing every drop out of what he puts into the game, in terms of making himself the best player he can be,” incoming general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “He’s doing everything he can to position himself to be a really good player.
“Can he sustain that (offense) and carry that through to pro hockey? I think one of the things that we like about Ben is that if he can’t, he’s still got a lot of value based on his character and how good of a player he is defensively.”
Jones, who hails from Waterloo, Ontario, was a touted prospect entering juniors and scored 30 goals for Niagara in his post-draft season of 2017-18.
He was named the IceDogs captain at the start of last season and stood out on a team that featured nine additional NHL draft picks.
The 6-foot, 193-pound Jones was one of nine players in the OHL to surpass the 100-point mark, as he posted 102 points on 41 goals and 61 assists in 68 games.
His assist total was tied for sixth in the league, one more than former Knights first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki.
“I highly doubt I’ll ever hit 100 points again in my career, so it was nice to get it that one year,” Jones said. “I always try to play with a chip on my shoulder and just try to impress as many people as I can and just try and prove the player that I can be.”
Jones was stopped on a point-blank scoring chance in the second period of Saturday’s scrimmage but was the lone player for either team to score in the shootout that concluded the contest.
He flipped a shot into the upper corner past goaltender Jordan Kooy and jokingly holstered his stick on his hip like a sword.
“I think the last two years in the (OHL) for him, he’s played on a good team, he played with great players and he really emerged as the player I remember him to be in minor hockey,” said defense prospect Nic Hague, who played against Jones for three seasons in the OHL. “It’s never going to be flashy with Jonesy. He’s always going to look like more of a grinder, but to put up 100 points in the OHL, it’s only the high-end guys that can do that.”
Jones, who continues to improve his skating, was signed by the Knights to an entry-level contract in June 2018.
The 20-year-old was assigned to Chicago of the American Hockey League after his OHL season was finished, and he is expected to play for the Wolves next season.
“I kind of saw how it worked there for a bit, and (Chicago coach Rocky Thompson has) been around camp for a bit,” Jones said. “I’m kind of getting the feedback that I can and talking to him to put my best foot forward and try and turn into pro hockey next year.”