In a 24 hour span that already saw the Kings involved in plenty of news surrounding two goaltenders who were traded for each other late Tuesday evening, another LA move fell a bit below the radar when they acquired the rights to goaltender Erik Portillo from the Buffalo Sabres.
What does that even mean?
Let’s do a quick review on NHL Draft rules and rights. When a team selects a player in the Draft, they only have their rights (i.e. the right to sign them) for a limited period of time. How many years they retain those rights largely depends on the league from which the player is officially drafted out of. For example, if it’s a major Canadian junior hockey player (WHL, OHL, and QMJHL), the NHL club has two years to sign that player. If they don’t, the player goes back into the NHL Draft.
This exact scenario happened with former Kings center Jarret Stoll. He was originally selected by the Calgary Flames in 2000. They didn’t sign him in time, so he went back into the 2002 Draft and was then selected by the Edmonton Oilers.
When a college player is selected, the NHL club essentially retains their rights through the end of their college career. If said player is not signed, he becomes an NHL free agent. This is also why many college players sign and turn pro after their junior year. NHL clubs make a hard push to get them signed by that point because if the player opts to return for his senior year, what’s the motivation to sign at that point? If the player just waited a few more months, he could become a UFA and sign with any team he wanted.
So, back to Portillo. The Sabres tried to sign him last summer, he didn’t sign and indicated he wouldn’t sign with them. Knowing their rights to him were expiring in the next few months, they opted to trade his rights and get an asset back in return.
It”a all about playing time and a path to the players future opportunities. Per long-time Sabres reporter Joe Yerdon, Portillo wasn’t interested in signing with Buffalo because he was potentially blocked by Eric Comrie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and Devon Levi. With the latter, he would have even been directly competing to both get to Buffalo and also for starts in AHL Rochester.
Who is Erik Portillo?
He was originally drafted by Buffalo in the third round (67th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft. Prior to going to college, he backstopped the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2019-20 to a 19-5-1 record, earning USHL Goaltender of the Year honors with a 2.11 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
At the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, he helped Sweden win a bronze medal — part of a team that also included Sammy Fagemo and Toby Bjornfot.
Now 22-years-old, Portillo has a 19-10-2 record during his third season at the University of Michigan. His 19 wins rank seventh most among all NCAA netminders this year. He also is carrying a 3.01 GAA and a .908 SV%. Last season, the 6-foot-6 netminder led the nation in saves (1,111) while ranking fourth in win percentage (.750) and ninth in save percentage (.926), along with snagging a Big-10 Championship. He was also nominated for both the Mike Richter Award and Big-10 Goaltender of the Year.
This weekend, he’ll be playing in a Big-10 Quarterfinal Series. Then, No. 4 ranked Michigan will participate in the annual Big-10 Tournament on March 11. Should they advance, the Championship game is March 18, followed by the NCAA Frozen Four.
Why would the Kings want to acquire his rights this week?
Beyond Portillo’s resume laid out above, the Kings are thin in goaltending depth, especially from an age distribution perspective.
Cal Petersen is currently expected to have another chance at earning an NHL job next season. He’s currently under contract for two more seasons and will be 29 years old in October. Although they technically still own the rights to Lukas Parik, they moved on from him last summer (more on him in a moment). Matt Villalta will be 24 years old this summer and is wrapping up his fourth pro season. He isn’t signed beyond 2022-23 and there is no guarantee he will be re-signed in July. Neither Jacob Ingham nor David Hrenak have contracts beyond this season either.
Looking to add some depth to their thin prospect pool, the Kings were willing to send a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft to Buffalo for Portillo’s rights.
And there’s no better time than the present; or maybe said differently, early bird gets the worm. It appears the Kings have learned from their past missteps. Several summers ago, they thought they were in the driver’s seat in the chase for unrestricted college free agents Zach Whitecloud and Neal Pionk. That didn’t work out as planned. Other teams swooped in and signed them to Entry Level Contracts. Looking to reverse history, the Kings struck early. They don’t want to let Portillo get to free agency. This trade wouldn’t have happened without Kings management believing there was a path to getting him signed. We’re expecting him to announce he’s turning pro and signing with the Kings by mid-April.
One more college prospect note
As we also recently reported, expectations are that Kings prospect Alex Laferriere will turn pro and sign in the coming months. Originally selected by LA in the third round at the 2020 NHL Draft. It was a pick GM Rob Blake acquired from Toronto in a deal that sent Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Trevor Moore and that pick. As luck would have it given this week’s trade, that third round pick originally belonged to Columbus.
Laferriere is currently at No. 5 ranked Harvard and they too are looking to go on a deep playoff run in the weeks ahead. Last year, as a freshman, he put up 31 points (14G, 17A) in 35 games. This year, the New Jersey native already has 36 points (16G, 20A) in 29 games with more to come. He’s also a Hobey Baker nominee.
Listen below to hear to what LA’s former top college scout had to say about him.
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