Last June, just prior to us breaking the news of defenseman Kevin Gravel, originally selected by the Kings in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Draft, signing an AHL-only deal with Manchester, rumors were swirling that he was looking to join another organization, wanting to sign a free agent deal elsewhere rather than stay with the Kings organization. He vehemently denied those reports to MayorsManor at the time and was steadfast in his desire to make it work with the Kings. He claimed to have no problem with the AHL contract. He also never complained about it, nor let it impact his attitude in any way.
Following the Monarchs’ Calder Cup championship celebration in front of their hometown fans in Manchester Tuesday night, the 6-foot-4 blueliner talked about the two-year Entry Level Contract the Kings recently offered him.
“It feels great,” an elated Gravel told MayorsManor AHL correspondent Andy Tonge. “It’s something that every player wants to have. After the year we had this season, it’s kind of the cherry on top and a great ending to the year.”
A native of Michigan, who also played one year in the USHL before moving on to being a student –athlete at St. Could State, Gravel had the opportunity to turn pro after his junior year in college, where he would have been leaving school early alongside fellow defensive prospect Derek Forbort, a player he is often linked to since they’re from the same draft class and played at rival NCAA programs. Instead, Gravel opted to stay and play his final season of college hockey in 2013-14, serving as the Huskies’ co-captain.
His development plateaued somewhat during his senior season, and he went from being one of the Kings top-10 rated prospects, to starting out this season on the outside looking in. However, being a pro is a completely different animal. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a player to have an adjustment year during their rookie season and then really start to show off their skills in a second season of AHL play. The learning curve was short here. He gave coach Mike Stothers everything he asked for in Manchester this year and the Monarchs new bench boss certainly liked what he saw, offering these comments to MayorsManor about a month before the playoffs got underway:
“Kevin has been great; he’s just improved immensely. There’s a lot to like about him when you first look at him. You see his size and his reach, and his skating is underestimated. He’s [also] made some real progress in the way he reads the situations. He’s making great plays. He looks like he’s playing with some poise and confidence. He’s been real good.”
Often compared to former Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi – who didn’t really develop his meanness until later in his career – Gravel also received a plethora or praise from the team’s longtime Director of scouting, Mark Yannetti, during our feature story on the young blueliner for LAKings.com last season.
“I actually think that Kevin Gravel is very undervalued for what he could end up becoming in the NHL someday,” Yannetti remarked. “You can go with the adage that there are 30 D1s because there are 30 teams, but there aren’t. There’s only eight to 10. I think the same can be said for D5s and D6s. You get a lot of D5s and D6s who are vanilla, just parts, that don’t fit the role the way that a certain team, or the way that the L.A. Kings want the role fit. You see a guy like this, and he’s not vanilla. He can skate, he can make a play. He’s very long in terms of the way that he defends. If he hits his potential physically, he might be 225 to 230 pounds. So, now you’ve got a guy who defines himself in that role if he hits.”
“There are plenty of 6-foot-5 guys, plenty of 6-foot-3 guys, who don’t defend long. He uses his stick with little subtleties, creating a defensive perimeter. If you watch the defensemen in the minors and in the NHL, they allow forwards to stickhandle in what I call their defensive triangle. It’s like a boxer’s reach. If a boxer has a great reach and he doesn’t use his jab, guys can come inside and start busting him up. Same with a hockey defenseman. If he has a great reach, but a lazy stick, or he holds it too close to his body, or he’s not active with it, guys can stickhandle inside his triangle, which now turns him from a 6-foot-5 defenseman to a 6-foot defenseman, no matter how physical he is. With Kevin, I saw that he defended long. I thought he defended long against the rush and I thought that he defended long in the zone, in the defensive half-court. I saw hints of a complete defensive game, where he might not have been as physical as some guys, but he established the same type of perimeter, just in a different way.”
His efforts in Manchester this season didn’t go unnoticed. Positive reports from the coaching staff and development group indicated he was deserving of an NHL contract. And it didn’t take long to work it out either. The Kings were in touch with his agent during the recent Calder Cup Final and the parameters of the deal were agreed upon in just a few days.
“I think anytime you have to put work into something, it feels pretty good when it pays off,” remarked Gravel. “Obviously, it wasn’t easy. It does feel good, though. I worked really hard this past season; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with them making me come in and earn it. Nothing is given to you in this business, so it feels good to be rewarded. This is where I want to be, so it’s good.”
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