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Strong Goalie Pipeline Is A First And A Sign Of Strength For The Los Angeles Kings

Goalie prospect Martin Jones speaks to the media during the
Los Angeles Kings 2011 Development Camp at the
Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California,
July 11-12, 2011.
Photo: Gann Matsuda

EL SEGUNDO, CA — With Jonathan Quick having established himself as a legitimate number one goaltender in the National Hockey League, and with Jonathan Bernier performing admirably in the backup role in his rookie year this past season, the Los Angeles Kings may have a one-two punch in goal that they have never had before.

Although Rogie Vachon is still the best goaltender in the history of the franchise, and Gary Edwards, the backup netminder during all but one of Vachon’s seasons with the Kings, was no slouch, the Kings’ current netminders have the potential to surpass the tandem of Vachon and Edwards.

Indeed, the Kings certainly appear to be set in goal for the foreseeable future.

But anything can happen. Indeed, there could be a trade, an injury, a contract dispute…anything. As such, an NHLfranchise cannot stop drafting and developing young goaltenders, and the Kings appear to be well-positioned in goal for the long-term, with Jeff Zatkoff (who signed a one-year contract on July 15) and Martin Jones right behind Quick and Bernier, honing their skills with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.

Jones, who was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on October 2, 2008, had an outstanding rookie season in the AHL, playing in 39 regular season games for the Monarchs, earning a 23-12-1 record, with a 2.02 goals-against average (GAA), a .926 save percentage, and four shutouts.

In the playoffs, Jones played made four appearances, earning a 2-1 record, with a 2.54 GAA, and a .921 save percentage.

Jones was surprised at how well his rookie year in the AHL went.

“[I was] a little bit [surprised],” said the 6-4, 191-pound native of North Vancouver, British Columbia. “I think I handled it well, I guess. I didn’t expect to play as much, or have as much success I did.”

“It was good,” added Jones. “From where I started, to where I ended up, I was happy with the way things went, for sure.”

Jones, who was a standout netminder for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League prior to joining the Monarchs, indicated that he had a lot of help making the jump from major junior hockey to the AHL.

“It was an easier transition for me because of the team we had,” he said. “It was a young group. We had a lot of guys who made me feel right at home.”

Even the Kings were surprised at Jones’ success in his first season in professional hockey.

“[He was] lights out,” said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford. “Nobody would’ve expected—we thought he was going to be in the ECHL the whole year, learning and becoming a good pro. He definitely fast tracked. To go to the AHL All-Star Game in your rookie season is pretty impressive.”

Jones was the top goaltender participating in the Development Camp, and acted like it…in a good way.

“Jones has been one of the best guys in this camp, forward or defense,” Ranford noted. “From start to finish, he’s been outstanding.”

“We were real happy with what we saw,” Ranford added. “Jones led the way. I think this is his third camp now. If you’ve been watching from the first goalie session on, he’s been lights out. He’s always had a great demeanor, but he’s getting better at reading releases, getting better at reading plays. That’s how you become a better goalie, and that’s how you move to the next level. I’m really looking forward to [seeing] how he does against the big boys in training camp, because that’s the next step for him.”

Jones was also given the responsibility of helping ease goalie Christopher Gibson nerves in his first Development Camp.

“Usually, we don’t put the younger guys with the older guys,” Ranford explained. “But I felt that with Gibson being our draft pick (second round, 49th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on June 25, 2011), and the other guys being free agents [players invited to the Development Camp on a tryout basis], it was important to put the two together. I thought Jones would do a good job mentoring him, and he has.”

To his credit, Jones does not appear to getting ahead of himself, nor is he letting the early success get the best of him.

“I know I’ve still got a lot of work to do, a long way to go [to get to] where I want to be,” he stressed. “It only gets tougher from here.”

Goalie prospect Jean-Francois Berube speaks to the media during the
Los Angeles Kings 2011 Development Camp at the
Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, July 11-12, 2011.
Photo: Gann Matsuda

Coming up behind Jones and Zatkoff is Jean-Francois Berube, 20, who completed his third season with the Montreal Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) this past season, playing in fifty regular season games, earning a 2.60 GAA, a .902 save percentage, and three shutouts.

In the playoffs, the 6-1, 168-pound native of Repentigny, Quebec earned a 6-4 record, with a 2.79 GAA, a .901 save percentage, and two shutouts.

After the Juniors season ended, Berube was assigned to the Monarchs, but did not play for them, as they only lasted seven games in the post-season.

“I thought I would be there a lot longer, but, unfortunately, the series—the wind changed direction,” he said. “But it’s always good to be in Manchester, to see how the pro guys work, what their habits are. It was really good.”

“That was great,” he added. “I was waiting for that for a long time. The goalie coaches here are really good. It was a happy moment for me.”

Although his statistics are not the eye-popping numbers one would want to see for a goaltender, by all accounts, Berube had a good final season in major junior hockey.

“I have to give credit to my team,” said Berube. “Without a strong team, I couldn’t [do my job]. It was a good year for us, but, unfortunately, the playoffs didn’t go the way we wanted. But it was a good year for me. I learned a lot [from] playing more [compared to 2009-10], I gained a lot of confidence.”

“I’m more patient on the puck,” added Berube. “I read and release better. My game has really [come] a long way since [my] first Development Camp. I’m a lot more mature. Having more games, I feel more confident in my net.”

“I think I’m improving and [moving] in a good direction. I feel that I’m ready to move up to the pro level.”

Despite the progress, Berube still has some things to work on.

“They just want me to improve on little things [like] being patient on shots, releases,” he noted.

Berube had minor hip surgery in early June, and was unable to participate in the on-ice sessions during the Development Camp.

“I had hip surgery five weeks ago,” Berube explained. “It’s kind of an old injury that I had, and the Kings wanted to make sure we fixed it up for my future, so that it doesn’t get worse.”

“It’s just minor stuff that was bothering me a little bit,” Berube added. “It was a good thing to fix it up now.”

Berube is expected to be fully recovered sometime in August, and should be at 100 percent by the time training camp rolls around in September.

“It’s too bad that I can’t go out on the ice right now—they haven’t seen me a lot this year,” Berube lamented. “I guess it’ll be more in September when they give me some things to work on.”

Even though he was reduced to watching the on-ice sessions and scrimmages from the glass, attendance at the camp was not a waste of time.

“We just had him watching,” said Ranford. “He just got off crutches before he came here. The big thing with him was watching. You can learn a lot by watching other guys. He was in all our video sessions.”

“You want him to be around the guys,” added Ranford. “He’s going to be part of our organization for awhile, so you want him to get to know the guys and feel comfortable. There’s no use leaving him at home. This is his peer group that he’s going to be carrying on with for the next four or five years, so you might as well get him used to it.”

Look for Berube to spend the 2011-12 season with the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ ECHL affiliate.

“We’re not going to put a stamp on that, but, if you look at the history of our goalies, that’s kind of the way they’ve gone,” Ranford noted. “A year or two in the ECHL, [then] move up to the American Hockey League.”

“We’re excited to see [Berube] get healthy, and see him in training camp,” Ranford added. “It’ll be a big year, learning to be a pro, and if it happens in Ontario, that’s just a huge bonus.”

As mentioned earlier, just a little over two weeks after he was selected by the Kings in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 19-year-old Christopher Gibson, who is fluent in his native Finnish, along with English and French, got his first taste of what an NHL development camp was all about.

“It’s a short period of time, but you get to see what the NHL guys do every day,” said the 6-1, 198-pound native of Karkkila, Finland. “It shows you what you have to work on to get in that shape you need to be in to play pro hockey.”

As it has been in past years, the off-ice instruction and training was the primary focus of the Kings 2011 Development Camp, and the grueling workouts were an eye-opener for Gibson.

“It’s really intense here, working with [Kings strength and conditioning coach] Tim Adams,” Gibson explained. “He’s a great guy, but he pushes you to your limits every time. It makes you give everything you have in your body. I like to work hard, so it’s a good thing.”

“It was a lot of hard work,” Ranford noted. “He was pretty exhausted after the first two days. I was happy with his efforts.”

This past season, Gibson was the top-ranked netminder in the QMJHL, earning a 14-15-3-5 record in 37 games, with a 2.42 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage, and four shutouts, with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, who were, obviously, not one of the better teams in the “Q.”

“I got drafted by the Q in the import draft, and Chicoutimi picked me up, so I’m very happy to be there right now,” he said. “Of course, it’s a bit hard to play on that team, but I like to play that type of team. We worked very hard, but we didn’t get those points that we needed.”

“Next year, we’ll have the same team,” he added. “Everyone needs to come together. That will help a lot, but I have to be a big [player for] that team next year.”

Like the other netminders, Gibson received instruction from Ranford and Kim Dillabaugh, who handles goaltender development for the Kings.

“I worked a lot with Bill and Kim,” said Gibson. “They just tried to get me into the pro style of playing.”

“Everything comes faster here than in major junior,” added Gibson. “I really have to get into that, and get that mindset that I’m getting to a higher level, and everything will be faster.”

On the ice, Gibson had a bit of trouble making the adjustment.

“It was a little bit overwhelming for the young guy early on, going up against some real high level shooters,” said Ranford. “I thought he handled himself very well.”

Ranford had to explain to the very young goalie what he was up against.

“I kind of broke it down for him when he’s going up against the forwards, Ranford explained. “You’ve got [Tyler] Toffoli, who was the top scorer in the Ontario League. You’ve got [Jordan] Weal, who was in the top five in the Western Hockey League the last two years. [Linden] Vey was the top scorer in the Western Hockey League this year. Then you’ve got a guy like [Brandon] Kozun, who was a top scorer two years ago, and finished second the previous year [in the WHL], and [just finished his rookie season] in the American Hockey League. It’s not chump change that he’s been going up against, so it’s been a real good challenge for him. It does help him get quicker and faster.”

“He’s had to make some slight adjustments,” Ranford elaborated. “He’s very raw, and that’s what we’re excited about. He’s got great upside with his athletic ability, but there’s a lot of rawness to his game that gives us the opportunity over the next couple of years to work with him.”

Ranford was impressed with what he saw from Gibson.

“[He has good] athletic ability, he’s got a real nice set of hands,” said Ranford. “His ice awareness—reading plays. That’s already there pretty good. The combination of those things are some real good building blocks to move ahead on.”

But, like all young goaltenders, Gibson has a laundry list of things to work on.

“Oh boy…I think just receiving the rush,” Ranford said. “We talked about making small adjustments on his angles—angle maintenance. [Also], cleaning up tracking the puck behind the net.”

“Realistically, the big thing we really tried to focus on early in this camp was habits,” Ranford emphasized. “I have very high expectations with habits, and attention to detail, and that’s we worked on with him for the first three days, habits, habits, habits. Finish every save. Just really cleaning up his habits.”

Gibson added rebound control to his list.

“I’m very calm, and that helps me be calm in front of the net,” he noted. “[But] I need to work more on the rebound control, too. It’s OK at the major junior level, but maybe not the pro level.”

If one thing stood out about Gibson, it was that he oozed enthusiasm, excitement and a positive attitude when he spoke to the media. As it turns out, that was not just a show.

“He was very receptive, and that’s huge,” said Ranford. “You need somebody who is willing to make changes in their game, and I don’t change goalies. I just try and build on what they have. For an LA King goalie that Kim and I look upon, [the emphasis] is more on their habits and attention to detail. That’s what I expect out of my guys.”

Gibson will end up back with Chicoutimi next season. Nevertheless, he has his sights set squarely on Los Angeles in the future.

“I find myself still pretty far away right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I have to work on—get quicker and read the plays better. I guess it comes with time, and I have to work very hard on that.”

“[Here at the Development Camp], we just walk from the rink to the hotel, and back to the rink, so we haven’t really seen anything [around the Los Angeles area],” he added. “Yesterday, we went to workout on the beach. That was a nice experience. I’ve never done that before.”

“Hopefully, one day, I’ll see more of LA.”

Berube knows Gibson’s game all too well, as the two have faced each other in the QMJHL.

“We had a few games that we played against each other, and it was always a close game,” said Berube. “He’s a good goalie. He’s really quick, and it’s going to be fun to have him in the organization here.”

But that means more intense competition among the goaltenders in the Kings pipeline, and, since anything could happen, Gibson could, conceivably, pass Berube on the Kings depth chart.

Nevertheless, Berube is focused on his own game.

“Having good goalies [in the system] helps everyone,” he stressed. “You see the younger guys pushing, and it pushes everyone.”

“I’m just trying to focus on my play, and doing my own thing. Like I said, they’re all good goalies. Of course, you want to beat them. You want to be the best. It’s just a good thing for everyone to have good goalies in the organization.”

A good problem to have, no doubt, one that the Kings have never had in the 44-year history of the franchise…

…until now.

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20 Responses to Strong Goalie Pipeline Is A First And A Sign Of Strength For The Los Angeles Kings

  1. Paul Mouradjian says:

    Can any of these guys score off the wing position? THat is the WEAKNESS of the current team……Love Williams always have, but he gets injured every year….Gagne, hasnt been the same since the concussions and serious injuries…..can we just hope and pray they get better THIS year? ….Love the whole idea of Goalie pipeline, now make it work for you and get some scoring wingers….oh who’s left…..looks like the trade deadline on the flip side of this year will determine that result…..”wait and see” mode ……Do not like the Flyers West moniker…Feel Deano gave up a HUGE prospect in Schenn…and the argument that he hasn’e done anything in the NHL is ludicris….he is excelling at every level he has played…..the M RIchards argument…well what the heck has he done? Cheapshotted a few players into concussion hell….He is more suited for the ‘NUCKS as he is one of the leagues most Whinny Players……Oh yeah that partying thang……allegedly that had something to do with Simmonds exit….so get rid of one “Alleged” partier to get another more experienced partier and place him in arguably one of the most partying capitals of the world…..now he will rub elbows with Celebs! YEAH! Not buying this stuff at all….they got to prove it to me now….feel like I have been sold a bill of goods these past 5 years and here we go again…….Deano has dissappointed me……I want to be proven wrong……let’e see how the year unfolds…..One of these goalies is gone this year…for a …………..SCORING WINGER!

  2. lowdrive says:

    Definitely a good sign. Great to see how far they’ve come in this arena. Having lots of solid goaltending is something we sure aren’t used to around here. Considering that this team is only a few years removed from Dan Cloutier and having to bring in, no offense to him, a goalie from Japan, having a strong crop of goaltenders in the minors and two capable guys on the big team is fantastic.

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