LOS ANGELES — Back in the spring of 2008, defenseman prospect Alec Martinez had just finished his third year at Miami University (Ohio) and had put his John Hancock on a three-year, entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
Several months later, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi predicted that his fourth round (95th overall) pick in the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft had a solid chance to win a job with the Kings.
“[Martinez is] going to challenge for a job and we’ve got a couple of other kids in the minors and they’re not going to give up either,” said Lombardi. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to and get some players out of [the Kings’ system].”
But that same draft class netted the Kings highly-touted defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey, the fourth overall selection that year. In 2008, along came star defenseman Drew Doughty (second overall pick), who received serious consideration for the Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL’s rookie of the year) in 2008-09, and was a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy (NHL’s best defenseman) in 2009-10.
The 2008 class also netted the Kings highly-touted defenseman prospects Colten Teubert (first round, 13th overall), Viatcheslav Voynov (second round, 32nd overall) and Andrew Campbell (third round, 74th overall).
Wait…wasn’t there another defenseman prospect out there somewhere? Oh yeah…that Martinez guy.
To say that Martinez was pretty much out of sight and out of mind was an understatement, even after playing two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, not to mention a brief stint with the Kings to start the 2009-10 season.
During those years, Martinez scored eight goals and added 15 assists for 23 points in 72 regular season games in 2008-09. He followed that with seven goals and contributed 23 assists for 30 points in 55 regular season games, along with three assists in 16 playoff games in 2009-10.
Although he showed improvement from year-to-year, Martinez remained an afterthought while the spotlight focused on the more well known blue line prospects. To be sure, popular belief seemed to be that Martinez had just a slim chance of ever making it to the NHL level to stay.
But this season, Martinez got off to a blazing start with the Monarchs, scoring five goals and adding eleven assists for 16 points in twenty games, and was leading the team in scoring when his fortunes changed rather abruptly.
Indeed, deciding that a different look was needed on their blue line, the Kings recalled Martinez on November 23, and he immediately responded the next night at Montreal, scoring a power play goal, which was also his first goal in the NHL.
The Kings lost that game, and looked pretty bad in the process. But Martinez played well and did not look out of place. Since that time, he has played well enough to see his ice time gradually increase, and he now finds himself on the ice in all situations.
“Martinez is making himself a good player,” said head coach Terry Murray. “He’s got nice skills, he can really skate, he shoots the puck very well, he’s got nice vision, and he’s really starting to do a good job in the defending part of it.”
“He’s a skilled guy,” added Murray. “He can play on the power play and certainly four-on-four because of his mobility, skating, and puck skills. He can carry the puck with authority and make plays.”
All those skills were blindingly apparent on December. 4, in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings at Staples Center. Martinez not only scored his second goal of the season to tie the game, but his heads-up defensive play set up the overtime game-winner by center Anze Kopitar.
On the play, Martinez broke up a pass that started a three-on-two break. But that isn’t all he did.
“He made the winning goal happen,” Murray emphasized. “You see the winning goal, the way he broke up the play and started that attack out of the zone, and drives right through to the [Detroit] net, backing the net defenseman off, which opened everything up for [right wing Dustin] Brown to make the pass to Kopitar. That was textbook, how you draw it, and [Martinez is] getting a lot of recognition for his play.”
As Martinez drove to the front of the net, Brown had the puck on left wing. He threw a flat pass across to Kopitar, who one-timed a shot from the top of the right circle, beating Red Wings netminder Chris Osgood.
“I don’t know what happened in our zone, but I saw the three-on-two going,” said Kopitar. “Martinez made a big effort just to drive the net and take [Detroit superstar defenseman Nicklas] Lidstrom right to the net. That opened up the seam and Brown gave me a pass—that was a really nice pass. It was right along the ice and I managed to one-time it.”
“I was just in the defensive zone,” said Martinez. “I saw [Red Wings forward Johan] Franzen on the weak side, and he’s a good player, so I knew they would be trying to hit him [with a pass]. There was a little pass across the seam, and I was able to get a stick on it to deflect it. Brown made a good play to Kopitar, and I just drove the net to try to open up that pass. Fortunately, it went in. It was a great play by Kopitar and Brown.”
The 6-0, 205-pound native of Rochester Hills, Michigan is certainly making the most of his opportunity with the Kings.
“I feel good out there,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep playing with confidence and keep it going. I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to get better every day.”
“He can make himself a pretty valuable player, and grab the opportunity, which he seems to be doing on a pretty consistent basis now,” Murray noted.
Despite his strong play with the Kings, Martinez knows he has a long, long way to go before he becomes a full-fledged NHL player. As such, he’s still keeping his room at a house he shares with some of his Monarchs teammates.
“I live in a house with a few of the guys down there,” said Martinez. “I keep sending them rent checks, so I’m not dogging’em on that. I actually left them a check. Just trying to be a good teammate.”
If things continue on their present course, Martinez’ Manchester teammates might want to start looking for a new roommate, just in case.