The L.A. Kings are taking a hard look at the overage talent in the U.S. Division of the WHL this year. First, they signed Austin Strand to a entry level contract on November 28th. Strand has piled up 29 points in 28 games so far this year with the Seattle Thunderbirds and has nine of his 10 goals on the power play.
Strand has been working on a deal with L.A. for a little while now. “I started talking to their assistant general manager two weeks before it
happened and then I knew that he came out to watch me a couple times. Then in talking with my agent, we knew there was a couple of teams that were interested, but we figured that L.A. would be the best spot for me, Strand said.”
The smooth skating blue liner was passed over in each year’s NHL draft, despite playing in the Memorial Cup in both 2016 and 2017. He attended camp with the Edmonton Oilers and has credited that camp with setting him up for his big year.
Then on Friday, the Kings announced that they had signed Portland Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler. His path to an NHL contract was an inspirational one. Kehler lost out in a battle with Connor Ingram for the starting job with the Kamloops Blazers back during the 2014-15 campaign and then lost the backup role to Dylan Ferguson the following year. Both Ingram and Ferguson were signed to NHL contracts over the last few season themselves.
What followed was some time in the BCHL’s Merrit Centenniels and it seemed Kehler would not be heard from again in the WHL.
Then the Portland Winterhawks dealt a seventh round bantam pick for him during the summer before the 2016-17 season and gave him a chance to battle for the starting job with fellow 1997-born goalie Michael Bullion. Kehler showed he was ready for the chance he was given, took the starting job and never looked back.
He then got a training camp offer-this one from the Winnipeg Jets this fall. Kehler has followed up with a great overage year for the Winterhawks, compiling two CHL goalie of the week awards and posting a 2.15 GAA and 0.931 save percentage. That was enough for the Kings, who inked him to an entry-level contract.
Both seem primed to start next year with the Kings AHL affiliate: the Ontario Reign.