Jonathan Bernier has been tagged by every media outlet in Los Angeles as the Kings’ future franchise goaltender. How do you think that makes someone like Jeff Zatkoff feel?
“I just try to worry about myself,” said Zatkoff, goaltender for the Manchester Monarchs of the American League. “I know that if I take care of my business, work hard and play well, then I’m going to get my opportunities, whether it’s with the Kings organization or someone else down the road.”
Franchise goaltender or not, Zatkoff has been turning heads in the hockey world with his play ever since he was drafted in the third round (74th overall) by the Kings in the 2006.
Having played in the United States League as a youngster, Zatkoff had an urge to attend college, rather than take the often-touted major junior route. Playing for Miami University in Ohio, he put up incredible numbers, with save percentages of .928, .919 and .933 in his three years of college. He had goals-against averages of 2.02, 2.26 and 1.72, and in his junior year he was the star of the team, going 27-8-1 during the season.
After being drafted, though, Zatkoff spent some time with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL before being brought up to the AHL late in the 2008-09 season. He started the ’09-10 campaign with a bang, going 8-5 with a .932 SP and a 2.38 GAA for Manchester. Although his numbers leveled out down the stretch, he still finished with a respectable .915 SP and a 2.92 GAA.
“I think his strengths are his patience with the puck, reading releases and using his big body to stop the puck,” said Los Angeles goaltending coach Bill Ranford. “I think he’s a student of the game, he’s always trying to learn. That’s real important to his game and his development, to continue to learn and just wanting to be better.”
Many goaltenders would be discouraged knowing there is so much talent on the depth chart in front of them. With Jonathan Quick and Bernier in the organization, Zatkoff could easily get down on his situation, but that’s not how he interprets his position.
“It’s exciting that we have a lot of youth on our team,” Zatkoff said. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the league and when we’re healthy, we’re one of the best in the league. As far as the goaltending goes, there’s a lot of great goalies in the system, but…it’s been big for me to be able to play with (Bernier) and watch and learn from him.”
To get to the next level, Zatkoff knows improvement is needed.
“I pride myself on making it easy, staying square to the puck and not getting too scrambly,” he said. “As far as weaknesses go, I think I can always get stronger. I’m 6-foot-2, 170, so I think I can always get stronger and put on a little more muscle.”
Zatkoff, who was ranked eighth among Los Angeles prospects in THN’s Future Watch 2010, understands the trail to the NHL is long and winding, but he is ready for the challenge.
“I think if I have a good off-season, I can come in and prove in camp that I can play with Quick and Bernie – I want to go in there and turn some heads. Like I said, I’ll get my opportunity and make the most of it – and hopefully stick.”
THN.com’s Prospect Watch focuses on up-and-comers from the AHL, Europe, major junior, the NCAA and even minor hockey destined to become big names in the NHL.
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