KINGS PROSPECT REPORT: JEFF ZATKOFF
LEKSAND, Sweden – Jeff Zatkoff laughed when asked about his family's athletic bloodlines.
"I get it from my mom," he said with a sly grin.
Zatkoff's father, who is also named Jeff, was drafted by the Indianapolis Pacers of the National Basketball Association. His great uncle, Roger, played in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions and his grandfather, Ronny, suited up with the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers.
The Kings made Zatkoff their third pick, 74th overall, in the NHL Draft last June, and when makes his NHL debut, that will be a pro-sport trifecta that will be hard to duplicate.
"I guess I come from a pretty athletic family background, both on my dad's side and my mom's. I guess it is a mixture of both," said Zatkoff during a break at the World Junior Hockey Championship. "I tried playing basketball but basketball is not my thing. Football was never an option. I am not really built for football."
Hockey has 'been his thing' for almost as long as Zatkoff can remember.
Growing up in Detroit, he watched Hockey Night in Canada with his father and played youth hockey with the Little Caesar's organization.
He was drafted by the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL in 2004 and compiled a 2.55 goals against average in 24 games, along with a .914 save percentage during the '04-05 season. That's also when he caught the attention of USA Hockey and participated in the Select 17 Player Development Camp in 2004, posting a .909 SV% and a 2.00 GAA in six games.
When the time came to decide which school to attend, the finalists were The Ohio State and Miami, and the later won out.
Now in his second season with Miami, Zatkoff went 14-5-1 with a 2.02 GAA and a .928 SV% as a rookie in 2005-06.
He had a 9-3-0 record and a 2.26 GAA when he left the Red Hawks to join the 2007 U.S. National Junior Team for the WJC in Sweden.
Zatkoff earned the start in goal for the opening game against Germany and was spectacular in a 2-1 loss. The U.S. was a hit the cross bar and a couple of goal posts away from earning the victory. Coach Ron Rolston said after the game that Zatkoff had performed well.
Zatkoff also got the start against two-time defending gold medalist Canada. Though the Canadians won, 6-3, the score wasn't an indication of how close the game actually was and Rolston was more than happy with the effort of his goalie.
Two straight losses, however, had the U.S. facing the possibility of being eliminated from the tournament and the only way Rolston could shake up his lineup was switching goalies and he inserted Jeff Frazee. The tentative U.S. team regrouped and reeled off three straight wins to advance to the semifinals against Canada, losing 2-1 in a sudden death shootout.
But ask anyone around hockey about the pressures of playing in the world junior tournament and they will tell you this is a win-win event, even when your team loses. It is one of those character-building things and that's the approach Zatkoff is taking.
"I had a great time," he said. "For me personally it has been a great experience. This is the first time I have been to Europe and the hockey has been incredible. It is a great step for my development."
Jim Johansson, senior director, hockey operations for USA Hockey, was impressed with how Zatkoff prepared himself for games, whether he was the starting goalie or not.
"You can see that he is a real focused kid. He is pretty structured and I do not want to say he is a really serious kid but he gets himself ready to play," said Johansson. "He prepares himself well. You see maturity in some players and others you just want to go shake them and explain how they should be getting ready to play.
"There is no worry about him not being ready to play and other kids you have to channel it through. I was talking to the coaches and the feeling is he is a real solid kid."
Team captain Taylor Chorney said that while Zatkoff is quiet in the dressing room, his effort on the ice speaks volumes about how competitive he is.
"You do not want to stereotype a goalie, but he is quiet and he is not as vocal in the dressing room as some of the players but you expect that of a goalie. He is pretty focused and he gets in a zone before the game.
"But he's amazing when the game starts."
"I am pretty quiet around other guys, but once you get to know me I am a pretty social guy," he says.
One thing about goalies is this: You can never have enough of them. Zatkoff is one of almost a handful of goalie prospects the Kings have piled up in their pipeline and there is strength in numbers.
Zatkoff knows he will get his chance to show he can play in the NHL.
"That is my dream, to play in the NHL. Being a goalie, I know I can't rush things and I have to develop,'' he says. "My dream to play in the NHL and to play for the Los Angeles Kings."
Rolston said the Kings have a good person and a good player in their development pipeline.
"He gave us the opportunity to win the games he played and you can't ask for more."
No you can't.