A year after narrowly missing the Top 25, the Los Angeles Kings' new #3 goalie checks in at number 22.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Nationality||Draft||Vote Total||Last Year|
At this time last season, Jean-Francois Berube couldn't have been expecting a whole lot of action. The 2009 fourth rounder had spent the better part of two years getting moderate time in goal for the ECHL's Ontario Reign and putting up good, not great, numbers. (Given that Ontario has two NHL affiliates, he was forced to split his time in goal with Chris Carrozzi, a Winnipeg Jets prospect.) Berube had shown enough progress to grab the fourth spot in a top-heavy Kings goaltending hierarchy, but still, it was looking to be a year of backing up Martin Jones in Manchester.
That all changed a couple months into the season. Jonathan Quick got injured, Jones tied an NHL record for most consecutive wins to start a career, and Ben Scrivens was suddenly expendable. When Scrivens became the starter in Edmonton, Berube wasn't just filling in as the Monarchs starter anymore; he was THE GUY. His response was better than most could have expected; despite playing twice as many games in 2013-14 than he did in 2012-13 and facing tougher competition, Berube actually improved his save percentage a couple ticks and proved he was capable of handling a heightened workload. The #1 seeded Monarchs would go on to lose in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but not because of Berube, who stopped 103 of 110 shots in four games against the Norfolk Admirals. Berube's reward was a spot with the Black Aces during the Kings' Cup run, and a chance to celebrate the eventual Stanley Cup victory with the big club.
In an age where goaltenders are getting larger and larger, Berube still has room to grow; he's 6'1" but thin, and as Gann Matsuda noted in his excellent profile of Berube, he had to learn to play bigger in addition to increasing his size. The chatter about JF Berube always seems to go back to one thing, though: consistency. It's hard for even the most accomplished goaltenders to maintain a high level of play, but it's been a constant sticking point for Berube, who's been called inconsistent since the day he joined the Los Angeles organization. His season in the AHL was enough to earn trust from the Kings' management, who gave him a two-year contract during the offseason. Did Berube earn enough trust to take on a full year as an AHL starter? We're not sure, primarily because Berube is going to be pushed by Patrik Bartosak (interestingly, the #23 player on our countdown).
The least we can assume is that Berube will get another healthy workload in Manchester, and if there's a short-term injury to either Quick or Jones, the more experienced Berube is the likeliest fill-in. Any extended absence would likely see a veteran signing. Why? Well, Berube is no Martin Jones. Jones had 136 games of AHL experience under his belt going into 2013-14 and had posted save percentages of .924, .919, and .919 in his three seasons with Manchester. Sure, he was 23 on Opening Night, same as Berube will be this season. But the consistency of Jones in a stable situation made promoting him long-term a feasible option. Giving Berube the backup spot in LA comes with considerable risk, and for that reason, don't expect a 2013 repeat if anyone gets hurt.
The best-case scenario, of course, is that Jones and Quick stay healthy, and we get a chance to see Berube and Bartosak fight it out for the starting role in Manchester. Berube's new contract eases the pressure on him to an extent, but if he ever does want to tend the net at Staples Center, he'll have to work even harder than he has to this point to keep his position as the #3 goalie in the organization. If anything goes wrong? Well, he'll always have his Stanley Cup celebration. And a Mexican vacation.