University of Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo is set to lead the Wolverines into a Frozen Four matchup against Quinnipiac four days from now for a chance at a berth in the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship on April 8, 2023.
Whether or not his collegiate season ends in four days or six days, he is not expected to return to Ann Arbor next season. Foregoing his senior year, he is expected to sign a two-year entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings and could even potentially join the Kings as a Black Ace for the playoffs.
For those unfamiliar with what exactly a Black Ace is, Chris Gear of Daily Faceoff breaks it down:
"“The Black Aces are those players called up to NHL rosters to serve as injury replacements, reserve depth and frankly, insurance. They can be added any time after the trade deadline, when the NHL’s 23-man roster limit is lifted. However, because the salary cap is in place until the end of the regular season, teams don’t usually have the cap space to carry extra bodies, so you start to see the influx of the Black Aces as soon as the regular season ends.”"
Theoretically, Portillo could see NHL ice as early as a few weeks from now, which would be rather daunting considering the jump from NCAA Division I hockey to joining the ice with the best hockey players in the world is quite massive. But, if he doesn’t take the ice for the Kings this postseason, then he will join the Ontario Reign’s rotation next season.
Barring any unforeseen changes, Head Coach Marco Sturm would add Erik Portillo to a goalie rotation that includes Cal Petersen and Matthew Villalta. Unlike the NHL whose roster limit caps off at 23 players, the AHL can carry up to 25 players, or even more.
"“Most AHL teams will carry 23-25 players, depending on injuries and scheduling. There is also no limit to how many AHL contracted players can be signed to one team; often teams will invest in depth players under AHL contracts and have them assigned to their ECHL affiliate until they are needed. This allows players to play more games at a lower level rather than being consistently scratched at the AHL level.”"
Let’s use the Laval Rocket as a case study for this rule. As of right now, the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate carries 28 players: 14 forwards, 11 defensemen, and three goaltenders. Not only do they carry more than 25 players, but they also have more than two goaltenders, which could very well be the case for the Ontario Reign next season.
In 67 games played this season (out of a total of 72), the Rocket have split the goalie duties primarily between Cayden Primeau and Kevin Poulin, with Philippe Desrosiers only getting two of those games. If the Reign are in a similar scenario in the future, they could use Cal Petersen, Matthew Villalta, and Erik Portillo interchangeably.
Or if the Kings decide to either buy out Petersen or move him to another team, then Portillo could gain a lot more experience at the AHL level. The performance of Cal Petersen at the NHL level was below-NHL standards, which is why his contract was buried in the AHL.
However, since joining the Reign earlier this season, he has played decently well. In 36 games played, he is 15-17-4 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.92 goals against average. A 2.92 goals against average is not something to get excited about, but compared to his 3.75 goals against average at the NHL level this season, it’s a step in the right direction.
Los Angeles Kings fans would like to move on from Cal Petersen, but with projected limited cap space, at $1.36 million dollars, and newly acquired goaltender Joonas Korpisalo being an unrestricted free agent, the goalie situation for the Kings will be very interesting this coming offseason.
Will Rob Blake hold onto Cal Petersen? Will he move some pieces to free up cap space to keep Joonas Korpisalo?
Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of the goalie position for the Kings. But, having a prospect like Erik Portillo certainly provides a sense of security for the future of the goalie position.
The wild card for the Kings in regard to goaltenders is a former sixth-round draft pick of the Kings in 2018, Jacob Ingham. Jacob Ingham suffered a back injury in October 2022 and is still listed as injured with an unknown timetable for his return. But, he is also in the last year of his entry-level contract that he signed with Rob Blake on April 18, 2020. So, his future with the Kings is also questionable.
At only 22 years old, Ingham has yet to see NHL ice. But, he has logged some time in the AHL for the Ontario Reign. He appeared in six games over a two-season span and went 3-2-1 with a .903 save percentage.
A scenario I could see happening is Joonas Korpisalo walking in free agency due to being too expensive and the Kings being unable to match what he’s worth on the free agent market, Cal Petersen getting another chance in the big leagues, and Matthew Villalta, Erik Portillo, and Jacob Ingham share reps in Ontario.
But, I also don’t think Rob Blake would settle for Cal Petersen being a backup to Pheonix Copley at this point in time because the Kings’ Stanley Cup window is creaking open sooner rather than later. And becoming a legit contender would involve a more reliable netminder to play between the pipes with Pheonix Copley.
It will be interesting to see what happens with all of the question marks surrounding the netminders in the Los Angeles Kings organization heading into the offseason. But, one thing continues to be true: Erik Portillo was an incredible trade deadline pickup by Rob Blake.
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