LA Kings Goaltender Prospect J.F. Berube Will Need To Pick Up Development Pace In 2012-13

Goaltending prospect Jean-Francois Berube, shown here during the
Los Angeles Kings 2012 Development Camp, July 6-10, 2012,
at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
(click to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/
EL SEGUNDO, CA — With Jonathan Quick being a finalist for the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy, and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player in last season’s playoffs, leading the Los Angeles Kings to the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise, the Kings have their first truly elite goaltender since Rogie Vachon starred for them from 1971-72 through 1977-78.

But even with Quick firmly established as the Kings’ top netminder, a National Hockey League team can never have enough goaltending. After all, no netminder can play all 82 regular season games, and then there are injuries to consider.

Jonathan Bernier, who possesses elite-level skills, is Quick’s backup. But for how long? He has, according to at least one report, requested a trade, and he confirmed to Frozen Royalty last season that, like all goaltenders, he wants to become a number one goalie in the NHL someday.

Who can blame him?

Despite that, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi is not, and should not be, in any rush to trade Bernier. He can wait for a team that is willing to pay his price. As such, Bernier is likely to be with the Kings when training camp opens, and probably until the trade deadline, at the very least. But what will Lombardi do for a backup goaltender, when he pulls the trigger on a deal involving Bernier?

Martin Jones is the number one goaltender for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), now that goalie prospect Jeff Zatkoff has signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But by all accounts, Jones, who just completed his second season with the Monarchs, is not yet ready for the NHL.

Lombardi will likely have to acquire an NHL-capable backup through free agency or via trade, with the latter being the most likely method. But that also means that he will need to find a backup goalie for Manchester, and even though prospect Jean-Francois Berube is the next in line, he may not be ready for AHL duty just yet, especially after last season with the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ ECHL affiliate.

Berube, 20, played in 37 regular season games (2,091 minutes) last season, earning a 17-13-3-1 record, with a 2.87 goals-against average (GAA), a .907 save percentage, and four shutouts.

Those are good numbers, but are still not where they need to be for a bona fide NHL prospect.

In the playoffs, the 6-1. 170-pound native of Repentigny, Quebec, played in four games (206 minutes), earning a 1-2 record, with a 3.20 GAA, and a .878 save percentage—poor numbers, to say the least.

As Berube’s statistics indicate, he played in just barely over half of Ontario’s regular season games last season, with 29 games going to Chris Carrozzi, who posted better numbers than Berube, with a 2.41 GAA, and an impressive .918 save percentage.

Although he did not have a bad season, Berube’s numbers during his first season at the professional level may be a cause for concern.

But one reason for that was off-season hip surgery last summer.

“The first half of the season was a little harder since I had my hip surgery [last] summer, so it was hard for me to pick up the pace at the beginning of the season,” said Berube. “But once I was 100 percent healthy, I was able to really pick up the pace.”

The hip stopped bothering him at the end of November.

“That’s when I started to become stronger, and more comfortable, getter better range of motion,” he indicated. “[His problems] only happened at the beginning of the season. After that, I was more consistent, and I was playing more. It’s always easier when you’re between the pipes more often. You get more comfortable, and it’s easier to get prepared for the next game.”

“[Late November] was when I started to feel comfortable and healthy,” he added. “I could stop worrying about my hip, and focus more on the game. Sometimes, I was scared to hurt it again. That was still in the back of my mind. But once I was able to [forget about it], just play my game, and show what I’m capable of, that’s when I started to pick up a good rhythm.”

While Berube aimed squarely at his recovery from hip surgery as the cause of his struggles, Kim Dillabaugh, who handles goaltender development for the Kings, had a slightly different view.

“The first half of the season, he would be the first to admit that it wasn’t a very good start for him,” said Dillabaugh. “He came off an injury, but at the same time, he wasn’t playing at the level he was capable of.”

“I don’t think it was a confidence issue,” added Dillabaugh. “Numbers can be misleading. There were definitely more struggles this year, in terms of his game, but he was the outright number one guy this year, so he played a lot more minutes.”

“When you’re the number one guy, you’re going through ups and downs, and managing a lot of a lot of different things that come up over the course of a year. In the big picture, it was a good learning season for him, to go through to some of things he did. He’s going to become a better goaltender at the end for it.”

Berube, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (95th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, turned his game around during the second half, earning more ice time.

“He definitely found his groove in the second half of the year,” Dillabaugh noted. “He was playing at the level that we expect him to be able to compete at. Now he’s got to take another step forward.”

“We had a really good end of the season,” Berube indicated. “After that, I don’t know what happened in the playoffs, but I think we had eight or ten wins in a row. We were fully loaded for the playoffs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t perform as [well] as we were [at the end of the regular season].”

As it is with just about all players coming out of junior hockey in Canada, Berube had to adjust to life on his own.

“To become a pro is a big step for a goalie,” he said. “Going from junior to the pro level is a huge [change]. That was the biggest thing for me this year.”

For players coming out of junior hockey, where they live with a billet family, or their own family, moving up to the professional level is a big change.

“Whenever you transition to a new level, there’s a lot of challenges that come along with that,” said Dillabaugh. “It was him learning how to be a pro, living away from home, coming out to California from living in Quebec.”

“For me, it was my first time leaving home,” said Berube. “I was fortunate enough to play for my hometown team during my junior career, so I was living with my parents, and I had my friends really close to me.”

“Last season, I had to learn how to live on my own, [cook] my own meals, and stuff like that, so that was [added] maturity for me,” added Berube. “I adapted really well.”

There was also bit of culture shock, coming to the megalopolis that is the Los Angeles area, from Repentigny, a suburb of Montreal.

“It’s a different culture, trying to focus on just playing hockey—it’s always nice in Ontario, and there’s always a lot of distractions out there,” he said. “I had to focus on my own things, and remember that this is my job, and I have to perform. That was the biggest [off-ice challenge], I think.”

“There’s a lot off-ice issues that I think have more impact on how you play on the ice as well,” Dillabaugh explained. “There are some things there that we talked about, and again, making sure, from a health perspective, that he was feeling good, and was doing the necessary things to be able to perform on the ice at the level he was capable of. There’s some things there that we worked through together, and to his credit, he really took hold of things in the second half of the year, and finished strong.”

Players always say that when they move up a level, the players are bigger, stronger, and faster, and that everything in the game is quicker.

Last season was no different for Berube.

“The guys are bigger, and execution is quicker,” he noted. “That makes a big difference, and it changes the game a little bit, so it was a bit of an adaptation for me, at the beginning of the year. I had to be more square on pucks, and read the game better. It made a huge difference once I ‘got it.’”

Dillabaugh and Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford were there in Ontario, approximately 43 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, every so often to help Berube “get it.”

“Bill Ranford came [to Ontario to see him play] once a month, or Kim Dillabaugh,” said Berube. “Either one came out once a month for a couple of days. It was good to have them close, so I could work on some things to help me pick up my game.”

“At this level, it’s all little things,” added Berube. “It’s all about reading the game, being more patient.”

After Ontario’s season ended, Berube made the drive west on Interstate 10 to Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles to witness the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup.

“I [was there] for all the games,” said Berube. “It was important for me to be part of that. It’s kind of hard to win that trophy, so I wanted to see it.”

“I was hoping the best for them,” added Berube. “They worked hard all season, and they faced some adversity throughout the year. Just [getting] a new coach, it’s something huge to win the Cup the same year. I was really excited for them.”

With the Kings winning the Stanley Cup, expectations are higher throughout the organization, including for their young prospects, and they are aware of the added pressure, even though it has not been expressed verbally.

“It sets the bar high, because now that they’ve won it, they know they can win it again,” Berube noted. “They’re expecting [more from] the prospects, and all the [current] players.”

But that does not change the way he has to work on improving his game.

“I’m just focusing on my things,” he indicated. “Of course, Jonathan Quick is a good mentor for all the goalies in the organization. I just want to be as good as he is, and I’m working hard to get there.”

Before that happens, Berube has a tremendous amount of work ahead of him.

“It’s a big off-season,” Dillabaugh emphasized. “Last year, he missed a lot of time coming off his injury. He wasn’t able to really do much in the off-season last year, so that’s got to be something he makes up for this year.”

“It’s more about his fitness level,” Dillabaugh added. “He needs to become bigger and stronger. From an on-ice perspective, you know he’s a lot more like a Jonathan Bernier-type guy, very structurally sound. For him to be able to continue to move forward, he’s got to become [more fit], he’s got to become a better athlete off the ice, and get stronger, and that’s just a maturity thing as well.”

Although it seems unlikely that he will start the 2012-13 season at the AHL level, a spot on the Monarchs’ roster is what Berube has his sights set on, knowing that there is no spot for him on the Kings’ roster at this time.

But first things first.

“I’m just focusing on one camp at a time,” Berube said during an interview in early July. “For now, I’m focusing on the development camp. After that, there’s going to be the rookie camp, so we’ll see what happens for next season.”

“I want to be [at Manchester], and I’m working hard to get to the next level. I hope to be there next season.”

Frozen Royalty’s J.F. Berube Coverage

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