Up next in the LA Kings' Top 25 Under 25: a free agent who is now eligible to sign with any NHL team! Yes, that does indeed make no sense. We'll definitely have to discuss that.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Nationality||Draft||Vote Total||Last Year|
|16||Kevin Gravel||3/6/1992||US||148 (5th)||131||#20
(Regarding the vote total: please remember that there were 14 voters, ranking from 25 to 1. Thus, the maximum possible vote total was 350.)
Last year Kevin Gravel came in at number twenty in this countdown, and at the time our old pal Nick did a pretty great job of summing up his game. Gravel was your classic defensive defenseman, a big kid (6'4, 200 pounds) who looked to take care of his own end and didn't really have the skill set to do anything else. Following his third season with St. Cloud State (home of roughly seven trillion other Kings prospects), Kevin apparently had a difficult decision to make: sign an entry-level contract with the Kings and report to Manchester, or return to St. Cloud State for his fourth and final season with the team. Ultimately, Kevin decided he was fond of that college life (and who isn't really), and back to Minnesota he went.
Gravel had a very good season with the Huskies in 2013-14 from an offensive standpoint, putting up 23 points in 38 games for 0.61 points-per-game. That number eclipsed his previous years, where he had scored just 26 points in 115 games (roughly 0.23 PPG). In addition, he scored ten goals last season when in all previous three years of college hockey combined he had managed just three (though hey, at least it was one per year, so consistency!). In an interview Gravel gave to Mayor's Manor while down in Manchester, even Kevin himself struggled to explain his sudden, unexpected outburst of goal scoring:
"Honestly, I don't even know. I got put in a few different situations than I had the previous year - I got a little power play time, and a little more minutes. And, um, I don't know. The majority of my goals were just shots from the point kind of found a way through. You need a bit of luck for that to happen, and I had a little bit of that. Obviously, I know that's not my role, but when they go in, it feels good."
(Boy he sure made that sound repeatable huh?)
Yes, he gave that interview while down in Manchester, after he signed an amateur tryout deal that allowed him to appear in five games at the end of the season following St. Cloud State's elimination at the hands of Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional Final. He went pointless and was a -3, and ultimately didn't end up seeing any action in the Monarchs' four playoff games, which definitely says something. Still, that would have been an awfully small sample size to judge him by (and who really gives a crap about plus/minus anyway), especially when we had his impressive senior college year to go with instead. So when the voting went out for this year's Top 25 Under 25 back in July, Gravel saw a nice little bump from his place in last year's list, going from 20th to 16th.
Several months later as I sit here writing this, Gravel is no longer under the Kings' control. Perhaps his words in the aforementioned Mayor interview should have been a red flag- he sounded very unsure of whether or not the tryout deal would lead to an actual entry-level contract with the team- but few really thought Gravel would end up a free agent. Except, that's exactly what happened, as Gravel and the Kings failed to reach an agreement prior to an August 15th deadline, as the Kings didn't tender him an entry-level contract and Gravel was now free to sign with any NHL team. Gravel did sign a 1-year deal with the Monarchs a few weeks earlier, but that's strictly an AHL contract and the Kings, as of now, do not actually own his NHL rights. Though they can of course choose to sign him to an entry-level NHL deal later, so can all 29 other teams.
So what happened? Why was Gravel allowed to become a free agent rather than getting his ELC, especially following a career senior year in college hockey?
Jason Lewis, a Kings blogger for another site (and, it must be said, a great Twitter follow), had a take on it back on August 25th that sounds more than plausible. In his column on Gravel and the Kings' prospect system as a whole, Lewis argued that Gravel had, in essence, missed his chance. Here's an excerpt:
"While it is still possible the Kings and Gravel come to an agreement, the likelihood seems little considering the team was willing to let him go to the free agent market. Maybe the hope from the Kings is that Gravel will see that the free agent market isn't quite so grand as expected. Maybe the team no longer sees the long term utility of Gravel when compared to others in the system.....To be honest, I feel that Gravel had his shot last season when he opted to return to St. Cloud State instead of turning pro. While I won't sit here and say that it was the wrong decision for him, because that is extremely unfair, the opportunity was there for the taking. Now, that window is incredibly small and there are a ton of players in the mix. Perhaps the Kings were supportive (I've heard both they were and weren't) of Gravel's choice to remain in college at the time, hindsight may prove he should have gone to the AHL."
Jason goes on to talk about all the defensemen currently clogging up the Kings' pipeline, from veterans like Jeff Schultz to prospects like Derek Forbort, among many others (it's an excellent read and you should definitely go check it out if you want to understand more about the Monarchs' current situation on the blue line). But ultimately, what this means for Kevin Gravel is that he may have simply been considered expendable at this point by the Kings. Perhaps he wanted more money (remember, there is still some negotiating room in these ELCs, especially if you're a 5th rounder instead of a top 10 pick) than the Kings were willing to give him. As Jason also speculated, the fact that Gravel has yet to sign an ELC with a different NHL team, despite being a free agent for almost a month now, would perhaps indicate the Kings were correct on Kevin's perceived value.
So does that close the book on Kevin Gravel? Maybe, maybe not. He's still signed to play in Manchester next year (although, again, how much ice time he'll get and where he'll be on a crowded depth chart definitely remains to be seen), and it's always possible the Kings do give him his ELC during the season after all. But he and the team definitely appear to have reached an impasse at this point, and it remains to be seen if the two sides will ever actually come together again. As a result, this could very well be Kevin's last year on the Top 25 Under 25 list, in which case, uh, bye Kevin, I guess? Thanks for at least giving us the interesting case of a guy whose rights the Kings don't even have somehow ending up on a list of our top young players (and also for reminding us all of a Pokemon). Best of luck to you sir.