Forward Mitch Jones was barely a National Lacrosse League player when the Buffalo Bandits acquired him in a draft-day trade in 2013.
He was a sophomore in college during his rookie season with the Washington Stealth, spending most of the year playing hockey at Northern Michigan University. He joined his NLL squad for the final three games of the year once his collegiate season was over, benefitting from the NCAA's sport specific rule. He could be a professional while still playing at NMU as long as it wasn't pro hockey.
The Bandits landed him for a fifth and third-round pick knowing they'd have to wait for two seasons just like the Stealth did. Jones only played a combined seven games in that span with Buffalo, notching ten goals and six assists.
But with a bit of patience, the trade looks like an absolute steal.
"We thought he had endless potential," Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said. "We knew we were sitting on something good. ... Did I think he could step in and be a No. 1 lefty? That's tough. He's done more than we ever could have imagined."
The former hockey defenseman has scored 27 goals and 37 assists heading into Saturday's home game against the New England Black Wolves (1520 AM). Only Dhane Smith has put up better numbers than him in a Bandits uniform this season. He's 12th in the league in goals and 11th in points and is on pace for a second straight 30 goal season.
"Our offense ... I think we're coming around and trying to be more consistent," Jones said. "I think putting the ball in the net has been one of our strengths this year. Just being in a good position, playing with some good players on offense has put me in a good spot to score."
Jones is five points away from surpassing his total from last season. If he does that, he'll have improved his numbers in all three of his full NLL seasons. He said that's partially due to his ability to focus on lacrosse more than he did in college. Jones played in the summer while at NMU but didn't have too many opportunities to pick up a stick in chilly Marquette, Mich.
"Hopefully I'm still improving," Jones said.
Jones, a Delta, B.C. native, put on a showcase of his talents last week. He scored a team-leading five times in Buffalo's 20-7 victory against the Black Wolves last Friday. As a team, it was the Bandits' best offensive performance of the season.
"I think we just got back to moving the ball," Jones said. "With every team I've played on in this league, sometimes the ball gets a little bit stagnant. ... Hopefully, we continue that down the stretch."
If past results are any indication, the offense is in for another good night on Saturday. Buffalo plays the Black Wolves for a second straight week having already scored a combined 38 goals in two games against the Pack this season.
That doesn't mean the Bandits are taking things easy, as they have little slack in the tight East Division. Four of the five teams, including Buffalo, are tied for first at 7-7. New England is a half game behind them at 6-7.
"It's awesome for us," Jones said. "Whoever ends up winning out these last four games is really going to earn that first place."