October 30, 2010 // 11:44am ET
Counted Out Too Quickly?
By John Hove, TheFourthPeriod.com

LOS ANGELES, CA -- When asked for one word descriptions on his recent play, forward Michael Handzus and Jarret Stoll said "calm" and "awesome"... rookies Kevin Westgarth and Kyle Clifford used "dependable" and "unbelievable"... meanwhile, veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell said "he's a battler."

From the moment he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2006, the hype surrounding Jonathan Bernier began to escalate at almost an alarming rate.

In the coming months compliments and rave reviews came pouring in on the teenage phenom, with phrases like 'the savior' and 'future of the franchise' nearly always included.

So, it would have been very easy for Jonathan Quick to get lost in the shuffle after being drafted by the Kings in the third round the year before. In some ways, the deck almost seemed to be stacked against him.
 

First off, he was part of a rather mediocre draft class. Sure, the 2005 NHL Draft featured the ultimate prize - Sidney Crosby - and other big names like Bobby Ryan and Anze Kopitar. However, after the first round just take a look at the names drafted by the Kings that year: Dany Roussin, T.J. Fast, Quick, Patrik Hersley, Josh Meyers and John Seymour. Slim pickings to say the least.

Second of all, less than 10 months after hearing his name at the draft podium the Kings took a blow torch to their front office. They were ready to start from scratch and basically re-build the entire franchise from the ground up. Essentially, he was already part of yesterday's news, by being associated with the prior regime.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi essentially proved the point when he arrived in town soon after. Hired in the spring of 2006, he almost immediately began talking about how bare the franchise's prospect cupboard was and his desire to build the team from the net out. The latter was an easy to understand formula, as it had worked for him in San Jose. During his tenure with the Sharks they drafted and/or developed a slew of goalies, such as Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala.

Simply one look at the the Kings roster at the time, coming off a season in which Jason Labarbera and Mathieu Garon were the starting goalies, told you all you needed to know about the challenges facing Lombardi and his new staff.

What could have been the proverbial 'final nail' for Quick came just a few months later when the Kings drafted Bernier with the sixth overall pick - only the second time in franchise history the team had taken a netminder in the opening round.

Despite the hope and promise, Lombardi proceeded with caution. He didn't want to burn out his prized new possession too soon. To give the kid some breathing room, Lombardi acquired what he called a 'bridge' goalie in Dan Cloutier - many Kings fans had other, less flattering names for him. The idea was to get a few years out of the veteran until Bernier was ready. For the next few years, all the talk was Bernier this, Bernier that. And as Cloutier failed in LA, the Kings went through one bridge after another, just looking to bide time until Bernier could arrive. Nearly every goalie in the organization at some point made their way to the NHL in an attempt to keep the crease warm just a little bit longer.

Quick was supposed to be a back-up or even a stop-gap at best when he was called up to the NHL in 2008-09. Heck, he had started that season in Manchester - after splitting time in the AHL and ECHL the year before.

Although the Kings may have been just waiting on Bernier, Quick's former coach in Reading (ECHL), Karl Taylor - now with the Ontario Reign, the Kings ECHL affiliate - says he was always telling Kings management to not count out Quick. He believes the goalie has "special tools, that you don't learn from a coach or someone else - his toolbox is full."

He finished his first NHL season with a record of 21-18 and a save percentage of .914, certainly nothing that screamed he was about to become an elite NHL goalie.

Then it happened. Everything came together last year. At the same time Bernier was standing on his head down in the AHL, Quick was showing what he could do in the NHL. All he did was set several team records, including 39 wins and help lead the team back to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Still, it was Bernier's name that repeatedly came up late last season when Quick was struggling a bit. It wasn't just fuel, it was a tanker truck that was thrown on the fire when Bernier came up for a few games after Quick's wife had a baby. Over a few week span beginning in late March, Bernier went 3-0 for the Kings - including a shutout and another game where he only gave up one goal. So, naturally, some fans were clamoring for him to start in the playoffs.

Had they forgotten what Quick had done all season? Why were people in such a hurry to drop the person they brought to the dance? It was the hype talking.

Bernier the Great had received years of it, while Quick was barely a known commodity on his own team.

For the record, Coach Terry Murray went with the proven commodity. Quick started all six games for the Kings in the playoffs.

Over the summer the talk continued though. How long would it be until Bernier took over the starting job this season?

On opening night in Vancouver Quick skated to the crease wearing a purple and gold jersey with medium-brown pads, glove and blocker. The mask was painted to match the era. There he stood, looking like Rogie Vachon circa the mid seventies.

It was almost as if he was making a statement. Vachon is the greatest goalie in Kings history. He owned the net from 1972-78. His jersey hangs in the rafter at Staples Center.

This isn't to say that Quick is the next Rogie Vachon. It's still too early to tell. Yet, the Kings have something special in Quick. He's a kid who went to college - rather than the more popular junior hockey route, was a mid-round draft pick and had spent the majority of his first year as a pro playing in the ECHL - a place where teams usually put projects, not top prospects.

However, he's following up last year's impressive run with a strong start this year. Through the first three weeks of this season he's 6-1 with a goals-against-average of 1.96. Bernier is 1-2 and has looked very shaky for long stretches of those three games.

One person in the Kings organization noted that Quick looks incredibly calm in the early games this season. They believe he's not overplaying the situation. He's waiting until the very last moment and then stopping the puck.

Similarly, Taylor credits the Kings coaching staff for helping Quick tighten up his game and becoming more positional.

When asked, Quick says the competition with Bernier isn't providing him with any extra motivation. He claims it all comes from wanting to "win games and go deep in the playoffs." As for anything else that's helped raise his game a little more this year, he's quick to deflect to the strong defensive play of the Kings - using things like "they're playing great in front of me" and "we're shutting down lanes and taking away options"

His teammates clearly like playing in front of him too. All those one-word quotes at the beginning of this article, that's what they were saying about Quick, not Bernier.

John Hove, aka The Mayor, covers the Los Angeles Kings for TheFourthPeriod.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/Mayor119 to get daily information, interviews and updates on the Kings.



Contact Us | Jobs @ TFP | Advertise | Privacy Policy
© 2010 TFP Media, Inc. | All Rights Reserved | The Fourth Period™ and Ice Girls™ are registered trademarks.