COLOGNE — There are two larger than life player photos facing off outside the front doors of the Lanxess Arena, the largest hockey rink outside the NHL.
One fittingly promoting the Global Series is of the prodigal son Leon Draisaitl and the other is the home team favourite and former Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Jones of Chatham.
Connor McDavid is playing third banana to these two guys.
Jones, who quietly scored 35 goals in two seasons as a gritty Oilers role player and built a cult following in the town, went to Germany five years ago because teams didn’t see him as an NHLer any longer.
Jones, 34, could see the writing on the wall too, but not clearly, not unless he was wearing a special contact lens on his damaged left eye which took the full impact of a deflected puck during an informal skate in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve in 2013, just before the NHL lockout ended.
His successful NHL career, for all intents and purposes, was over then.
Not his hockey life, though. Jones, who saw the old Oilers logo on Draisaitl, McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and other Edmonton players Wednesday in an exhibition game here, has been a hero in Cologne too since he came overseas in 2014. This is going to be his last hockey season with retirement firmly on his mind.
“For me, there’s no better jersey in the league than the oil drop,” said Jones, who tugged on the jersey 247 times and played 334 NHL games in all.
Coming to Europe was a jolt for Jones because it signaled the end of his NHL days, but he’s thoroughly enjoyed his time here, now playing for Draisaitl’s dad Peter.
He’s more of a top-six guy on the Cologne Sharks, tasked with scoring goals, while fellow ex-Oilers defenceman Corey Potter moves the puck up ice and another one-time Oiler, Steve Pinizzotto, skates, gets some points and disturbs.
“I came over for five or six months, had some success and after two or three months, was offered a contract for two more years,” Jones said. “I talked to my wife and we’d just had a kid and I said, ‘OK, I can go back, but I would only be getting a two-way contract and chances are I would be spending time on the bus in the American League. Wasn’t worth it to keep chasing the dream.
“So we made the decision to stay and financially it’s significantly better than North America (AHL).
“Cologne is a great cosmopolitan city, the lifestyle is good, and you don’t have to worry about getting paid like the KHL.”
Jones’ NHL career was short-circuited because he just couldn’t make the plays required in traffic, his long-time calling card, with his retina concerns, but it’s fine now.
“I had two surgeries, one I tried to keep quiet (after the puck smashed into the left eye). It stabilized after that and knock on wood it’s good now. With the contact (lens) I have now I have perfect vision,” he said.
Germany was an adjustment with the bigger ice sheet and fewer games, usually Fridays and Saturdays, but Jones figured it out pretty quickly.
“For a guy who played like I did, I enjoyed the contact because it got me into the game, it got the adrenaline going,” said Jones. “But over here you would be surprised at how little contact there is. To finish a hit might be another 10 feet (skating) and it puts you 10 more feet out of position. There’s less emphasis on grinding it out, more on making plays. But I love it.”
And if the fluke eye injury hurt his NHL dreams, so be it. It doesn’t diminish what he did here.
“Yeah, this is my last hockey year. I purchased some real estate five years ago and every year in the summers in Minnesota that’s what I’ve done. But I can say I played 334 NHL games. It wasn’t a cup of coffee.”
On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty