With Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, Dean Lombardi confirmed plans to bring up Kevin Gravel yesterday. We wrote about him in our Top 25 Under 25 series, but let's catch you up on what the St. Cloud State alumnus has done this season in the AHL.
The 23-year-old Michigan native is quietly having a great season with the Ontario Reign. Not a flashy player, the defensive defenseman has registered only 16 points (5-11-16) and is a +5 through 42 games. (Yes, I know all the pitfalls of +/- but it's better than a -5!)
Gravel, as a player, is similar to Willie Mitchell in many ways. Like Mitchell, he's not a big, bruising, physical dman who will punish other players in the crease. When you don't notice him is usually when he's at his best. Typically, Gravel makes his bread and butter with solid positioning and good stick work. As with the Panthers' captain, Gravel is tidy in his own end and makes sure to take care of the defensive zone first.
As Sheng noted in his #FancyStats Recap, the all-situation sophomore defenseman has seen 1,161 Corsi events this season, the most of any Ontario player (trailing him is Vincent LoVerde at 1,059). Through 34 games played, Gravel has the sixth best CF% - behind Derek Forbort (seven games played); Jamie McBain (three games played); Nick Ebert (24 games played); Jeff Schultz (33 games played); and Zac Leslie (15 games played). If you remove the players with sample sizes that are too small, he moves up to third best. Remember, he’s seen the most Corsi events so it’s natural that his Corsi Against would be high. Perhaps most surprisingly is that, balancing out the Corsi against, is his Corsi For – he has registered the most Corsi events on the team ahead of the likes of Nic Dowd, Schultz, Michael Mersch, etc.
Jason Lewis of HockeyBuzz has some additional observations on Gravel, who he deems a "low risk guy in his own zone." Lewis has also noticed "very little hesitation to his game when it comes to outletting, going D to D, or jumping into the play." In his first couple of years at St. Cloud State University, Gravel seemed hesitant to jump into the rush but has shown amazing growth in situational awareness of when to transition from defense to offense.
Is Gravel ready for a full-time NHL role with the Los Angeles Kings? Not likely, but Dean Lombardi has famously said that there are two stages to readiness: ready for a look; then they go back and work on things; ready to play in the NHL. In this case, Gravel seems to fit the former rather than the latter. For starters: at 185 pounds, Gravel could stand to put on a few pounds of muscle. All the other areas of his game will be tested if/when he makes his NHL debut.