While the Los Angeles Kings have no reason to worry with the ever-reliable Jonathan Quick leading the way — knock on wood — and veteran Jhonas Enroth backing him up, the same cannot be said about the organization overall who saw their depth in goal spread thin over the last few months.
First, J.F. Berube was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders. A short time after that, the ever-promising Patrik Bartosak was charged with domestic absuse and, especially after the Slava Voynov matter, the chances of the Czech netminder ever playing in the Kings organization — or any other — again is slim-to-none. The Ontario Reign also parted ways with veteran Ray Emery recently, but that move did pave the way for a promotion as Michael Houser got the call to join the Kings’ AHL affiliate.
Houser was signed by the Reign back in September but spent the first part of the season in the ECHL with the Manchester Monarchs. He was then promoted to Ontario last month in the wake Emery’s release and the 23-year-old is now on board as a protege, if you will, to hone his craft at the next level.
In 11 games with the Monarchs this season, Houser went 8-3-0 with a 2.63 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Yet, while his time in Manchester was brief, Monarchs head coach Richard Seeley believes quality has superseded quantity in Houser’s case.
“Houser was great for us on the ice,” Seeley told me. “Our team was a bit sloppy to start the year and he was always steady for us. Michael is at his best when he is tracking pucks well. His off-ice attitude is great. He fit in well with the guys. Quite well liked.”
While this will not be his first stint in the AHL, a new challenge awaits the young netminder nonetheless.
“He just needs to earn and prove that he can do it for an extended period of time,” Seeley continued. “Before signing with Ontario, Michael had 65 AHL starts and was a big part of San Antonio’s success last season. In my opinion, at the AHL level, he would be a great tandem goaltender. When he is on and his confidence is high, he could run with the workload.”
In terms of entering unfamiliar territory, that simply doesn’t apply to Houser, according to Kings’ Goaltender Development Coach, Dusty Imoo.
“As far as being new and unfamiliar, not an issue because he was here at the beginning of the year (at Reign training camp),” Imoo said. “I have worked with Houser. He is a very nice guy and very coachable. Seems very eager to learn.
“He knows his role, and is just gonna use this as an opportunity to learn and get better.”
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Houser was already familiar with the AHL and ECHL upon being signed by the Kings organization. Between 2013 and 2015, as Seeley pointed out, Houser played for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, appearing in 37 games going 19-9-4 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Also during that time span, he played in 12 games for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones going 5-6-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Houser spent his junior career playing for the OHL‘s London Knights, a club that has helped hone the skills of many current NHL stars such as Patrick Kane, Rick Nash and John Tavares. Plus, if Martin Jones is any indication, then Houser’s undrafted status will not deter the Los Angeles Kings, or the netminder himself for that matter.
In fact, Houser’s time in London was memorable. In 2011-12, he won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player. In addition, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder became the first American-born netminder, and the first London Knight, to be awarded the Canadian Hockey League‘s top goaltender honours. This coming after posting a 2.47 GAA and a .925 save percentage to go in hand with six shutouts in 62 of London’s 68 games in 2011-12.
Fans may not be familiar with him right now but in due time, they will get to know Michael Houser who will be a driving force in restoring the organization’s promising depth in goal.