ONTARIO, CA — Even though 22-year-old goaltending prospect Martin Jones was never selected by a National Hockey League team during their annual Entry Draft, Los Angeles Kings scouts saw something special while he played for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
After signing with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent, Jones’ development has progressed faster than expected, and he has replaced Jeff Zatkoff as the number one goaltender for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), and as the top goalie prospect in the Kings’ system.
About one year later, the Kings selected another goalie in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round, 95th overall), Jean-Francois Berube, who played four seasons with the Montreal Juniors (now known as the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada) of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before making the jump to the professional level in 2011-12.
Last season, with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, Berube put up good numbers: 17-13-3-1 won-loss record, 2.87 goals-against average (GAA), a .907 save percentage, and four shutouts, in 37 regular season games.
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 goals-against average (GAA), and a .878 save percentage.
While Berube’s regular season numbers were good, they are not the strong stats one wants to see from a legitimate NHL goaltending prospect, and to make matters worse, he struggled during last season’s playoffs.
As his numbers indicate, Berube split time in the Ontario net with goaltender Chris Carozzi last season. Carozzi even posted better numbers than Berube, who got off to a very slow start while coming back from off-season hip surgery.
“The first half of the season, he would be the first to admit that it wasn’t a very good start for him,” said Kim Dillabaugh, who handles goaltender development for the Kings. “He came off an injury, but at the same time, he wasn’t playing at the level he was capable of.”
Berube said that he did not get back to 100% until November. But even then, his game was not where it needed to be. To his credit, he managed to get his game together for the second half of the season.
“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.”
Coming into the 2012-13 season, there was no Kings rookie camp, or training camp, thanks to the ongoing NHL lockout. Like the rest of the Kings’ young prospects, Berube participated in the Monarchs training camp, but he was destined to return to the Reign, where he would be the number one netminder, getting the ice time he needs to develop, rather than getting an occasional start as the backup goaltender behind Jones at Manchester.
“[The Kings] wanted me to come here, and play in a lot of games, and I want to play more, for sure,” said Berube. “I want to play regularly. I want to be in the net as much as possible, and that’s what their plan is.”
However, Berube has not yet been able to establish himself as the Reign’s number one goalie this season. Indeed, Carozzi has played in 14 games this season (817 minutes), while Berube has played in 13 (751 minutes), earning a 9-2-1 record, a 2.48 GAA (ranks seventh in the ECHL), a shaky .894 save percentage, and one shutout.
Meanwhile, Carozzi has a 9-5-0 record, a 2.86 GAA, a .881 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Although statistics are often quite revealing, and one look at those numbers indicates that Berube still has a lot of work ahead of him, it should be noted that one will see less defense in the ECHL than in the NHL, and the Reign are no exception to that. That has resulted in Berube being left to fend for himself more often than he would at higher levels, skewing his numbers.
Despite the fact that he continues struggle to establish himself as a number one goalie at the ECHL level, Berube said that there are no lingering effects from his 2011 hip surgery.
“I feel 100%,” said Berube. “I’m icing it [after games] as part of a routine, just to stay on top of it. I’ve been feeling great—no injuries.”
Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, along with Dillabaugh, have kept their eyes on Berube.
“[They want me to work on cleaning up rebounds], following the puck, and reading the play better,” Berube explained. “They want me to be a dominant goalie, and that’s what I’m trying to do every night. That’s my goal. I want to be a dominant goalie in this league.”
On December 7, when the Reign hosted the Bakersfield Condors, Berube backstopped his team to a 4-2 victory, and he chose a good time to put in a good performance, with Kings Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall and Special Assistant to the General Manager Jack Ferreira in the building, watching his every move.
Both made their way downstairs to the Reign dressing room after the game to talk with Berube.
“[Hextall] just wanted to know how things were going, how I felt tonight, and to see where my game was at,” Berube noted. “He said I was moving well, [and that he] liked the way I was aggressive in my net, controlling my rebounds, and that I played the puck well around my net. He [mentioned] a couple of things to work on, but overall, [his comments] were positive.”
While Berube has not had a sub-par season to date, the fact remains that he has not been impressive enough to earn enough trust from Reign head coach Jason Christie to secure the starting goaltender spot, which could be a cause for concern.
“I’m still working hard to deserve that number one spot,” Berube stressed. “It’ll come with time. I feel like I’m improving from one game to the [next]. That’s the most important thing for me.”
“I feel [like my game has matured a lot since my draft year], in reading plays, and in approaching games,” Berube added. “My preparation is getting better. It’s learning how to be a pro, improve my game, and try to reach the next level.”
Reaching the next level is not Berube’s primary concern at the moment, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. After all, if he is unable to lock up the number one goaltending spot with the Reign, his chances of success at higher levels, even as a backup, would be very, very slim, at best.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Jean-Francois Berube (4:28)
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