The Kings went through a stretch of years where goaltending was a major weakness. Through quality draft picks and developing prospects, the Kings have some of the strongest goaltending in the National Hockey League. The goaltenders all have unique backgrounds including where they were drafted by the Stanley Cup Champion Kings and in one particular case, where the goaltender was not drafted at all.
Manchester Monarchs netminder Martin Jones signed with the Kings undrafted and as an unrestricted free agent on October 2, 2008 at 18-years old. Since signing with the Kings, Jones has excelled at every opportunity given to him. In juniors, he had limited playing time in his first two seasons before he earned the starting role and proved to be the workhorse from 2008-10 with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
In all, Jones played four seasons (2006-10) for the Hitmen and amassed a 108-28-9 record and 16 shutouts. Jones’ 108 victories and 16 shutouts are the most in team history.
It was not long before Jones took the American Hockey League by storm during. Jones won six of his first seven starts for the Monarchs in the 2010-11 season, earning his first professional shutout and only allowed one goal per game in four of those first seven starts. Jones’ strong start continued throughout the season and he was named to the 2011 AHL’s Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford knew he had a good goaltending prospect in Jones but did not think he would progress as fast as he has in just two professional seasons.
“It is hard to say I expected it but certainly we were hoping for it,” said Ranford. “I think he was kind of not a diamond in the rough but a guy that had the pedigree. Due to his first and second year in junior and not getting the opportunity to play that much and then he went undrafted, the fact that we were able to sign him and then he has two great back-to-back years in junior and has since progressed very well from our standpoint is great. Two years ago, we did not expect him to be in Manchester then he goes to the All-Star game and has a great season. I think this year, he came in and got off to an (average) start and showed improvement as the season went on and that is what you expect out of a young player.”
Jones has been a winner at every level. He has 41 victories with the Monarchs over the last two seasons. If Jones finds himself in Manchester for the 2012-13 season, he could have a larger work load and could surpass the franchise’s all-time record of 61 wins set by goaltender Adam Hauser from 2003-06.
“I think he has the right demeanor to be a No. 1 goalie,” stated Ranford. “He has proven it at the junior level and has even proven it at the American Hockey League level. I think this year, we are expecting him to take a brunt of the workload and prove that he can be a dominate starter at the American Hockey League level.”
Jones is happy with his performance so far in the AHL and with netminder Jeff Zatkoff signing as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, he also expects to be relied upon between the pipes more often next season.
“I am happy with the way I have progressed the last couple years,” recalls Jones. “I am still kind of getting used to the pro game and learning how to play at this level. Expectations are always high with myself. My goal is to make the big club and if I am not there, then I hope to play a lot of games in Manchester and have a good season.”
If Jones plays in Manchester next season, he will do so with many members from last year’s team. Jones believes having familiar players in front of him will only help him feel more comfortable and confident in decisions that take a split second to decide during a game.
“When you get a chance to work with your defensive core for a couple years and get to know kind of how to work together, it will definitely help your game,” explained Jones. “It is definitely good for us that we have a bunch of returning guys and we continue to build here.”
As he receives more playing time in Manchester, Jones’ play continues to get better. Ranford agrees that if his play continues to get stronger and more consistent, he could be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
“He is realizing that in the very near future, he has a good opportunity in front of him,” noticed Ranford. “As long as he keeps progressing along, he will have a very good opportunity to make the big team.”
Jones got a taste of what life could be like in the NHL when he was recalled by the Kings as a “Black Ace” for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jones practiced with the team, spent time around the team and even had the chance to be a part of the on-ice celebration for the Kings first Stanley Cup Championship.
“It was pretty amazing to be a part of that,” reflected Jones. “Just getting to be on the ice with those guys everyday and practicing with them and work with them you are going to improve a lot. It was great in terms of on-ice stuff and it was good for my game. To be around it and the experience to see what they go through day-to-day and see how focused they are can definitely teach you a lot.”
As Jones enters his third professional season, he admits he is more relaxed as he plays more in the AHL.
“Each year, when you are called upon to play, you feel a little bit more comfortable,” said Jones. “Every year, you get another chance to play and hopefully I will play more games this year and continue to grow (my game).”
Each netminder in the Kings organization may have different backgrounds but they all have the same ambition of making it to the NHL and Jones is on the right track to reaching that objective in the near future.