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Sharks goalie Martin Jones taking off training wheels

Martin Jones was on a golf course with some pals in Scottsdale, Arizona, when he got the call that he had been traded to the San Jose Sharks on June 30.

It was pure elation, which wasn't exactly the reaction he had a few days earlier when he was dealt to the Boston Bruins.

Nothing against the Bruins, of course, but going from Jonathan Quick's backup with the Los Angeles Kings to beingTuukka Rask's backup wasn't exactly enthralling.

"I thought it was kind of a step sideways for me with Tuukka there," Jones said Sunday evening. "So I didn't really know what was going to happen. But then it didn't take long before I got the call that I was going to San Jose; that was a quick turnaround and that was really exciting."

Exciting because at 25, Jones felt ready to become a starter in the NHL, he had done his work, done his time, and the training wheels were ready to come off.

The Sharks felt exactly the same way. It was the perfect fit.

"That's the end game, is to play in this league and be a starting goalie, and have a chance to play for a Stanley Cup," Jones said. "I think the transition has been really good. All the guys, all the trainers, have made it very easy for me. It's been very good."

As far as opening statements go, how about 4-0-0 with only two goals allowed on 110 shots and two shutouts?

The New York Rangers are up next for Jones on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, and the part that becomes the true test for the North Vancouver native is getting used to the grind of being the No. 1 guy.

"It's been a good start, but it's a start; we've got a long way to go here," Jones said. "Part of being a starting goalie is being able to do it over 82 games. I just want to make sure that I continue with the stuff that's made me successful in the first couple of games and hopefully keep it going."

Getting Jones was a longtime goal of Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, who had targeted him at the top of his list last season while Jones was still a backup in Los Angeles. But there was problem: Getting him from a rival's roster.

The door opened a crack when Jones remained unsigned as a restricted free agent as the summer approached.

By then, the cap-strapped Kings realized they could be victims of an offer sheet, and the rumor mill suggested rival San Jose as being a possibility. After all, San Jose did it to the Chicago Blackhawks back in the summer of 2010.

So Kings GM Dean Lombardi moved Jones to Boston at the draft on June 26 as part of the Milan Lucic deal.

Wilson did a beeline for new Bruins GM Don Sweeney after the deal was done and communicated his strong desire to land Jones.

"We felt comfortable either way, to tell you the truth," Sweeney said Monday morning from Boston. "We had identified him, probably as Doug did, I had seen Martin play a lot in [AHL] Manchester and felt he was a really good goalie, and that he would be a real nice complement to Tuukka at that time. Doug was aggressive through the process, but we felt comfortable on either side of it."

Sweeney said that at no point did Wilson ever mention the possibility of an offer sheet, though I suspect that's exactly what the Sharks would have done had Boston not made the trade.

Plus, as mentioned, Jones wanted a shot at being a No. 1 goalie, so whether or not he would have signed with the Bruins remains a question that will forever go unanswered.

In the end, Sweeney got a good return in 22-year-old prospect Sean Kuraly and a first-round pick in 2016.

"It was a win-win on both situations, he's a quality goaltender but we also got quality return," said Sweeney.

For Jones, who would sign a $9 million, three-year deal with the Sharks, it was the perfect opportunity in San Jose with veteran Antti Niemi gone.

"I still wanted to make sure I earned my ice time and wasn't handed anything," Jones said. "I wanted to come to camp and make sure I was sharp."

You watch Jones play and one thing that jumps out is how calm he is in net.

"You look at his skill set, I don't know how I would put this, it's like a poor man's Carey Price, and that's a compliment obviously," said former NHL goalie Jamie McLennan, now an analyst for TSN. "He has a lot of similar attributes. You know how Carey makes everything look so easy, Martin also has that demeanor. I know we're just four games in here, but it's that type of skill set. The challenge for Martin still is to show he can be a starter at the NHL level, a guy that can play a lot of games at that level. He's done it in the AHL and in junior. I think the timing is right now. He's 25 years old. We're seeing goaltenders mature at a later age and it's because of the mental side, not the physical side. Cory Schneider is a prime example, he was stuck behind a couple of stars and waited for his time."

Jones appeared in only 19 games in 2013-14 and just 15 games last season, putting up good numbers but living with the reality of his role. Kings head coach Darryl Sutter likes to ride his No. 1 man, which is a reality Jones knew ahead of time, but it doesn't mean it's not frustrating at times.

"It's hard being a backup goalie," Jones said. "You've got to sit on your games a couple of weeks at a time. It puts a lot of added pressure on yourself to get the results. It's tough, especially when you want to play and you're not sure when you're going to get the start. But going into a season with a guy like Quick, you know that's going to be the case, it's part of the job. You just try to be a good teammate and work hard in practice."

And from Quick, Jones learned a lot.

"Quickie was great, I couldn't ask for a better guy to learn from my first couple of years in the league, watching him every day. So that was good," Jones said.

Credit the Kings, too, for seeing value in Jones when obviously few other teams did, signing him as a free agent after inviting him to camp in 2008.

That's a credit to Kings vice president of hockey operations Mike Futa, who back then was the Kings' director of amateur scouting. Also great work here by Kings' Western Canada amateur scout Brent McKewen, as well as Kim Dillabaugh (goaltender development) and Bill Ranford (goalie coach).

But the question is, how did this kid slide through the 2008 NHL draft to begin with?

"I'm not sure, to be honest with you," Jones said. "I played 20-something games [27 to be exact during his draft year in 2007-08]. I remember talking to my agent and thought maybe fifth-to-seventh round was a pretty good possibility. It just didn't happen and I'm not really sure why."

He might only have played in 27 games with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen that season, but he sported a 2.12 goals-against average.

"He was physically immature, and didn't play enough games," said one NHL scout when asked for an explanation.

Whatever the case, it was clear after the Kings signed him they had a good one.

"I got to watch him with the Hitmen, he was in our backyard," said McLennan, who was the Flames backup goalie at the time. "I don't know him very well, but I used to joke that I never saw him allow a goal. Every time I saw him play, I swear he would get a shutout."

It all worked out for Jones with his apprenticeship in the Kings organization, which included three-plus years in the AHL.

"My whole experience in L.A. was really, really good," Jones said.

And wouldn't you know it that the schedule this season would have Sharks at Kings as the opener?

"I saw that pretty quickly, it was a long wait to get to that game and I had that one marked on the calendar," said Jones, who allowed just one goal on 20 shots in the Oct. 7 win at Staples Center.

Since then, back-to-back shutouts over the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals followed by Friday night's 2-1 shootout win at the New Jersey Devils.

It's early, but the early returns on San Jose's gamble in goal look promising, indeed.


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