It’s been a sinewy season for the Kings between the pipes, but in acquiring prospect goalie Erik Portillo from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2023 third-round draft selection, they may have just grabbed their goalie of the future.
That distinction didn’t bode well for Cal Petersen, who wore the crown ephemerally before losing his starting job last year and spending much of this campaign in the minors. Then Pheonix Copley, who may not have been the goalie the Kings needed but was the one they had, surged admirably but did not inspire complete confidence for when the lights got much brighter.
That prompted the Kings to bring in Joonas Korpisalo via trade Tuesday, though his expiring contract offered little certainty regarding the length of his stay. Even Jonathan Quick, who was the fulcrum of two ascents to the pinnacle in 2012 and 2014 and helped salvage last season, was part of the trade Tuesday in a terse, icy farewell for a fiery competitor who’d debuted for the Kings way back in 2007.
Portillo, 22, is no stranger to pressure. The towering Swede made the move to North America in 2019. He competed one year at the US junior level, earning goalie of the year honors.
Portillo is currently in his junior season at the University of Michigan. This campaign has been much more challenging given the departure of a fistful of prominent prospects that made the Wolverlines a national title contender over the past two seasons, including last season, when Portillo was a finalist for the Big Ten’s goalie of the year. The turnover in personnel has hurt Portillo’s numbers, but not his profile.
While he may not quite be an elite goalie prospect, he’s likely the highest quality aspirant the Kings have had in net since Jonathan Bernier, though that may say as much about the Kings’ unwillingness to invest in organizational depth in goal as it does about Portillo’s potential. There’s also symmetry between the paths of Portillo and Petersen: Both were drafted by Buffalo but opted not to sign with the Sabres out of college.
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Whereas Petersen became a free agent, Portillo’s performance made him valuable enough that Buffalo could recuperate its investment of a third-rounder via trade. The situation was similar to what happened with the Ducks and defenseman Henry Thrun, whom they ended up having to trade to San Jose for a third-round pick Tuesday after failing to sign him.
In addition to flashing leather and stacking pads, Portillo has hit the books at Michigan and shown some entrepreneurial spirit. He and three classmates launched their own virtual platform, Dualete, that connects scholastic athletes with Division 1 competitors for one-on-one sessions.