No longer an understudy, Martin Jones has stepped into a starring role for the Sharks this spring

ByJoe McDonald ESPN logo
Saturday, June 4, 2016

SAN JOSE -- This is where Martin Jones belongs.

It's not Los Angeles. It's not Boston. The 26-year-old goaltender is in the perfect place with the San Jose Sharks.

If there was one player the Sharks wanted, and needed, last offseason, it was Jones. If there is one player the Sharks need now, it's still Jones.

It's no secret that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson wanted Jones, who was atop the organizational to-do list last offseason. At the time, Jones was serving as Jonathan Quick's backup with the Los Angeles Kings. Then, on June 26, 2015, the Kings traded Jones, along with defenseman Colin Miller and a first-round selection in the 2015 draft (Jakub Zboril) to the Boston Bruins in exchange for veteran forward Milan Lucic.

Four days later, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney flipped Jones to the Sharks in exchange for forward Sean Kuraly and a first-round pick in the 2016 draft. At the time, Sweeney declared the deal a win-win situation for both organizations.

Now Jones is one of the main reasons the Sharks are playing the Pittsburgh Penguinsin the Stanley Cup finals. Heading into Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET) at SAP Center, the Penguins have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, but San Jose's deficit has nothing to do with its goaltending. Jones has been spectacular the entire postseason, including the first two games of the finals.

Lucic saw Jones' ability up close several times this season, including in the Kings' first-round playoff series against the Sharks.

"Jones is a really good goalie," Lucic said. "He's big, patient and has really good technique."

Jones' journey to San Jose began with his desire to become a No. 1 goaltender. He did not want to be Quick's understudy anymore. Jones wanted a starting job, and although he has earned it in San Jose, he learned a lot by watching Quick during the Kings' Stanley Cup run in 2014.

"Just watching him throughout the playoffs, he competes on everything," Jones said. "That's the biggest thing you can take away when you watch him play."

Another important thing Jones learned during his tenure with the Kings was how to eliminate all the off-ice distractions and manage a long playoff run. Jones does not let anything daunt him, and that is evident in how he plays.

"He's calm and poised with great length," one Eastern Conference executive said. "Good sense."

All those attributes drew the interest of Sweeney and the Bruins. While Jones was playing for the Kings' AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs -- it's only a saucer pass from Boston to New Hampshire -- Sweeney saw plenty of games with Jones in net. He was identified as a possible complement to the Bruins' incumbent starting goalie,Tuukka Rask.

But Jones did not want to be a backup in Boston, either. He felt the move to Boston was a lateral one and did not want to sit on the bench. During the brief time Jones was a member of the Bruins' organization, Sweeney attempted to sign the goaltender, but to no avail, likely because Jones knew the San Jose offer could be on the table.

There was speculation that Wilson and the Sharks would have made an offer sheet on Jones if the Bruins did not make the trade. Both Wilson and Sweeney have since denied having any conversation about the matter before the trade. Either way, Wilson finally landed his goaltender.

Jones finished his first regular season with the Sharks with a 37-23-4 record in 65 games, including a 2.27 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. Entering Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, he's 12-8 with a 2.16 GAA and a .920 save percentage in the playoffs. He has three shutouts this postseason.

Nothing seems to faze Jones. He wants to focus on hockey and nothing else. He's soft-spoken with the media and only wants to stop the puck for his teammates.

Pittsburgh's No. 3 goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, and Jones were teammates in Manchester. They platooned at the position for two AHL seasons (2010-11 and 2011-2012) and remain friends, but it has been radio silence between them during the finals.

"He's been successful in L.A. and won a Cup, but for him to get the opportunity to be a No. 1 and go out and do it on his own and get his team this far, I'm happy for him," Zatkoff said. "I'm happy he played well but don't want him to play too well this series. But it's good to see him get the opportunity and make the most of it."

Zatkoff said Jones' composure on the ice gives the Sharks even more confidence in their netminder.

"He plays a real technical style, real calm in the net, and that allows his team to feel comfortable and settle down on the ice," Zatkoff said. "He's not out there scrambling around, and they feed off that at times, when the game gets a little chaotic. He's been real good for them, and he's going to be a good test."

As the Stanley Cup finals progress, goaltending at both ends of the ice will become even more important. Penguins rookie goaltender Matt Murray has been outstanding, and Jones has held his own.

"He's been outstanding, as has their guy," Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. "Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes, [Game 2] is an overtime game. I think we'll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play."