Los Angeles had become the Bermuda Triangle for many goalies, including Roman Cechmanek, Cristobal Huet, Felix Potvin and Grant Fuhr. The most promising prospect in the system was Jonathan Quick, still only a year into his college career, and Bernier was looked upon as the long awaited answer to the Kings' goaltending woes.
Born in Laval, Quebec, Jonathan played for the local QAAA Regents before moving to Lewiston, Maine to play for the Maineiacs of the QMJHL (where his brother scored the first goal he allowed). He backed up Jaroslav Halak in the 2004-05 season before becoming the number one goalie in 2005-06, playing in 54 games, and recording a respectable 2.70 GAA. The following year, Bernier posted a 26-10-0 record in the regular season with a 2.58 GAA and 0.905 SPct, but really turned it on in the playoffs with a 16-1 run, 2.34 GAA, 0.919 SPct, and a playoff MVP award as he led the Maineiacs to the QMJHL title.
A confident young Bernier then won his first NHL game in London, England the following season, and was spectacular stopping 26 shots. The media scrutiny was more intense than usual due to the location, and some wondered if he was indeed the next great goalie from Quebec. Was it a mistake to put him on this very big stage for his first game? That may be debatable, but the fact is he lost his next 3 games posting a 4.03 GAA and a 0.864 SPct. He was sent back to Lewiston with stories swirling that he was in such a funk that Kings management felt the need to read him the riot act in person.
He rebounded with a solid effort and then started the 2008-09 season in the Kings' AHL affiliate, Manchester. He was overshadowed by Jonathan Quick in camp, but secured the number one job once Quick was promoted to the Kings lineup early in the year. Bernier really responded the following season in Manchester, posting a 30-21-6 record with 9 shutouts, a 2.03 GAA and a stellar 0.936 SPct which earned him the title of the AHL’s best goalie.
With another chance to springboard previous success into a No. 1 job in the NHL, Bernier again struggled last year with the Kings, winning only 2 of his first 7 games, and 4 of his first 11. He did rebound later in the year, ending up with a 11-8-3 record. With Quick firmly entrenched as not only the number one goalie in L.A., but one of the best in the league, Bernier has not adjusted to a backup role as his numbers to date this season will attest – 3-4 record, 2.73 GAA and 0.895 SPct.
Listed at 5’11” and 186 pounds, the scouting report on Bernier is that he is an athletic hybrid goalie with good post to post movement, and excellent puck handling skills. He is considered to have a high competitive level, and has admitted that having a drastic reduction in playing time has been difficult. His track record also suggests he may need a season or more to adjust to the role of being a number one goalie in the NHL, which is not uncommon.
With teams such as Tampa Bay, New Jersey and Columbus looking for their future franchise goalie, Bernier has been the subject of many trade rumours. Unless L.A. does the unthinkable and moves Quick, it seems the Kings have a valuable asset playing a role for which he is ill suited. A team making a playoff push may also not be the best place for a young goalie struggling to find his game at this level. Perhaps a move to a young, rebuilding team with a lot of patience and a vacant roster spot for a number one goalie would be the best place for Jonathan Bernier to make his mark.
Tick Tock: Jonathan Bernier
On a semi-regular basis I will be discussing prospects that have been in a team’s system, and are now on the clock to make their mark in the big league. Today we look at Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.
When the Kings selected Bernier with the 11th pick in the 2006 draft it was considered both a solid choice and a selection that addressed a team need, to put it mildly. Please create your own drum roll as I announce the goaltenders L.A. utilized in the 2006/07 season: Dan Cloutier, Mathieu Garon, Sean Burke, Barry Brust, and Yutaka Fukufuji. Their combined record was 27-41-14 / 3.43 GAA / 0.884 SPct, with unconfirmed reports of King’s supporters often chanting “pull the goalie” as early as the first period.
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