They say first round picks are easy to make at the NHL Draft. It’s those hidden gems in the later rounds where scouts and General Managers truly earn their keep. And if 20-year old Kevin Gravel has his way, one day he’s going to make Dean Lombardi and staff look really smart.
The 6-foot-4 defenseman recently wrapped up his sophomore season at St. Cloud State, a year that could be best described as a breakout season for the Michigan native. He helped the Huskies return to the NCAA tournament he played a major role for Team USA at the World Junior Championships last winter. Those were just two of the factors that propelled him into the top-five of the LA Kings prospect list, as ranked by The Hockey News.
Primarily known as a steady, stay-at-home defenseman, the Kings selected him in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Draft in Los Angeles. The prior year he had played for the Sioux City Musketeers – the same league where Alec Martinez (Cedar Rapids, 2004-05), Matt Greene (Green Bay, 2001-02) and Trevor Lewis (Des Moines, 2004-06) cut their teeth before turning pro.
Just prior to heading west for Development Camp, MayorsManor caught up with Gravel…
MM: We hear you’ve been helping show some SCSU recruits around this summer.
KG: Yeah, probably the last three or four recruits. (Nic) Dowd and I have gone out to eat with them [note: Dowd is another USHL alum and was a Kings draft pick in 2009. He'll also be at camp this weekend]. I like doing that kind of stuff – getting them involved, taking them around and hopefully doing things that will help get them here. All these kids are visiting other campuses too and comparing the programs to see what school is the best fit for them. When they have questions for a guy who’s been here for a few years, I think I’m somebody who can help them figure things out.
MM: Give us the sales pitch. What do you tell recruits to swing them in the direction of SCSU?
KG: You have to point to the league. I think the WCHA is pretty tough to beat, especially with that new league we’re going to be part of too. Finally, they’re starting to work on the renovations to our rink as well. So, you can point to the construction they’re doing on that, as it’s supposed to be really nice. Plus, we’re a program that made some strides last year and we have a lot of guys coming back. Overall, I think there’s a lot of good things happening here.
MM: You have a few things going on away from the rink too. What made you finally join twitter?
KG: I updated from the stone ages and got an iphone, replacing my old brick of a phone. I wasn’t going to join, but Dowd kind of persuaded me. He talked me into it and I like it now. I’m on it quite a bit, but I’m probably a pretty boring guy to follow. I don’t tweet a whole lot.
MM: And you picked up a new dog too, according to a recently tweeted picture.
KG: There’s about seven or eight of us here right now and all my roommates are in town too. Since classes ended about three or four weeks ago, we go to the rink and workout all the time but we’re done by four or five o’clock. So, we found ourselves just staring at each other for the rest of the day. We started talking about how we’d like to have a little puppy running around. Then, we went down to the Humane Society and picked one up. We didn’t adopt him though, we’re just foster caring for him. We have him for about a month. But, he’s a pretty good addition to the family so far.
MM: And his name?
KG: He’s not even a foot high off the ground and he has a little snaggletooth. So, his name is Tank. It’s perfect. He’s a pretty good little pup too. When he goes back we hope he gets adopted. We’re getting pretty attached to him already though and we’ve only had him for a few days.
MM: What type of goals do you have for Dev Camp?
KG: With this being my third camp, I should be pretty comfortable with everything that happens. I’ve been through it a few times, there shouldn’t be any surprises to me. So, I think I should have a pretty good performance out there. I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t perform well and wasn’t one of the top performers. I’d like to be one of the higher end d-men in camp. If I’m on top of my game, I can be one of the better d-men there.
MM: How do you quantify that, in camp without statistics?
KG: If you’re on top of your game and feel comfortable with how you played – I don’t know if ‘fit in’ is the right way to put it, but you know you belong there. Maybe you make a couple of extra plays, maybe not panicking and giving yourself a little extra time, things like that. Those are some of the things defensemen need to be successful. Every d-man in camp is going to be good though. They wouldn’t be coming to Los Angeles if they weren’t!
MM: Who is the person you’re most looking forward to seeing this weekend?
KG: I know (Derek) Forbort and I’m excited to see him. We got to know each other pretty well over this past year. From an on-ice standpoint, I’m excited to see (Tyler) Toffoli play. The only time I’ve seen him play live were the two previous camps I was in. So, I know him a little bit – not too much though. But, I’m excited to see him play. I know he’s a goal scorer and I heard he ripped it up in the OHL this season. So, I’m excited to see what he’s all about.
MM: Any thoughts on Nick Ebert, another defenseman the Kings drafted this year?
KG: Ebert was on Waterloo as a young kid when I was in Sioux City. He was actually a pretty standout player for them too. He was ’94-born player and I was a ’92, But, he was pretty good then.
MM: We’ve often talked with you about the competitive rivalry with Forbort, being that you were both drafted the same year. Would you say it heated up a bit this year?
KG: The other thing there is the St. Cloud and North Dakota factor, those two schools don’t get along. So, any time we meet up we’re going to do our best to outdo each other. I think you could say there’s a little competitive rivalry. Obviously, he’s an incredible player. He was the Kings first round pick and he’s really taken some strides forward at North Dakota. But, we’re good friends off the ice and I’ve gotten to know him more this past year. I think any time you can have that competitive rivalry with another player it’s going to push both of you to perform your hardest.
MM: Ray Kaunisto won’t be in camp this time around. Who’s going to be doing all the chipring this year?
KG: That’s a great question and it’s a pretty big role to fill. I’m going to miss Ray. He’s a fellow Yooper, like myself. But, it’s going to be interesting to see who steps up to fill that role. I know Dowd thinks he’s funny, but he’s probably not good enough to fill that role. We’ll have to see.
Gravel has been a guest on MayorsManor a number of times though the years. Down below we’ve included links to a few of his visits – including when he was a guest author for us last summer, a look at his time at the 2012 World Juniors and more.
You can also get a full look at the roster for this year’s Development Camp by clicking here.
The Hockey News ranks the Kings prospects – Spring 2012