Led by a pair of Jonathans, the Los Angeles Kings
appear to have as much young goaltending talent as any team in the NHL.
, 24, posted career highs for games played (72) and wins (39) in his second full season and helped the Kings earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.
, 22, is waiting in the wings and considered the odds-on favorite to win the backup competition with Erik Ersberg
in Los Angeles following an exceptional season with the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League.
"He was arguably the best player in the American Hockey League," Kings coach Terry Murray
told NHL.com following Wednesday morning's pregame skate at the Pepsi Center.
Bernier, who was scheduled to start Wednesday night against the Colorado Avalanche
in the Kings' preseason opener, posted a 30-21-6 record for Manchester with 9 shutouts, a 2.03 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
A native of Laval, Quebec, Bernier backstopped the Monarchs to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Calder Cup Playoffs, where they lost to the Hershey Bears. Bernier went 10-6 in the playoffs with three shutouts, a 1.81 GAA and .939 save percentage.
"I had a really good season overall," said Bernier, who was the Kings' first-round selection (No. 11) in the 2006 Entry Draft. "I think my consistency was really good last year and we had a great team, too. We had a good run in the playoffs and surprised a lot of people. We would like to go back and play Hershey again, but that's the past and I'm ready for this season now."
Bernier got a brief taste of the NHL last March when he was summoned from Manchester. All he did was win each of his three starts with a shutout, a 1.30 GAA and .957 save percentage.
"We thought he was really making a big step towards grabbing a full-time spot in the National Hockey League," Murray said. "We really enjoyed what we saw last year."
But despite his vast potential, Bernier wasn't prepared to make the Kings' roster at this time a year ago.
"What it comes down to is, when we broke training camp last year, Bernier just wasn't ready for the job and I think he would admit to that," Murray said. "Now, getting through last season and seeing how he's developed as a player and at the maturity level he's now at, there's been tremendous growth in the fundamentals of his game, in his work habits and in that calmness that goaltenders need to have. He's taken it to the next level and he's knocking on the door now.
"We got a glimpse of that last year in those games after we called him up, but I can go back to other instances when he was called up my first year here (in 2007-08). I saw a player that definitely was not ready to make the step to the National Hockey League. There were just a lot of things that needed to come together for him."
Bernier spent most of that season with the Lewiston MAINEiacs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He lost three of his four starts with the Kings while posting a 4.03 GAA.
"I started (that) season at 19," Bernier said. "Coming up here (last year) and having good success, I think I just proved to myself that I could be here and be the goalie that I want to be. Those three games I played here gave me a little confidence boost coming into this training camp. I feel good. It's still a new start to the season and you never know how it's going to turn out."
Bernier, who grew up idolizing two other French-Canadian goalies, Patrick Roy
and Martin Brodeur
, isn't taking a place on the Kings roster for granted.
"He was arguably the best player in the American Hockey League." -- Kings coach Terry Murray on Jonathan Bernier
"I guess it's a battle between me and Ersberg," he said. "Obviously I know that Quick's going to be No. 1. For me, it's just to take that No. 2 job and see what's going on after. It's been a long summer. I was excited to come to camp and ready to get that challenge to see where I am in my game right now."
Murray also is eager to see how the more mature Bernier fares in the preseason.
"Give credit to him," he said. "He worked very hard and had a great attitude when he was talked to at the exit meeting at the end of training camp last year. He went down and did all the right things and improved on the details part of his game and he got rewarded with a tremendous season. It's a great lesson for everyone in our organization.
"He's much more ready today than if he had been the backup goaltender last year. He's got his game organized and structured, and he's hungry to prove he is ready. Now it's a matter of bringing it all together."