Kings ink Winterhawks goaltender Kehler to entry-level contract

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Portland Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. The Kings announced the deal Friday afternoon.

Kehler, a 19-year-old product of Altona, Man., has been a stabilizing presence for the Winterhawks since being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers prior to the start of the 2016-17 WHL regular season.

“I couldn’t be more excited to sign with the LA Kings,” Kehler said. “It is an absolute honor and I would like to say thank you to everyone who has been there along the way and helped me get to this point.”

Selected by the Blazers in the sixth round (123rd) of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, the 6-foot-4, 203-pound puck-stopper played in 32 games with Kamloops prior being dealt in exchange for a seventh-round bantam pick in July 2016. The 2016-17 campaign marked Kehler’s first as an undisputed WHL starting netminder. He appeared in a career-high 56 contests in the Portland crease, going 32-17-0-3 with a 3.10 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and two shutouts, helping the Winterhawks reach the 2017 WHL Playoffs where they upset the B.C. Division-champion Prince George Cougars in the first round before falling to the Kelowna Rockets in the second round.

Kehler is proving his breakout performance from 2016-17 is far from a fluke. In 22 games to begin the 2017-18 WHL season, the big-bodied netminder has helped the Winterhawks surge to the forefront of the WHL’s Western Conference. Kehler has managed a record of 17-4-0-1 with two shutouts. His 2.20 GAA sits second among all WHL goaltenders, as does his .931 SV%. His 17 wins are good enough to sit tied atop the leaderboard and his two goose eggs rank fourth in the WHL.

“As an organization we are extremely excited for Cole and his opportunity with the Los Angeles Kings,” said Mike Johnston, head coach, general manager and vice president of the Winterhawks. “It’s a good lesson – if you work hard and stay focused on your goals, good things will happen. He is very deserving of the contract.”

Combined across his four-year WHL career, Kehler is 53-39-2-4 with a 3.34 GAA, .901 SV% and four shutouts. In 11 career WHL post-season contests, he is 5-6 with a 4.17 GAA and .897 SV%.

Prior to joining the Blazers, Kehler developed at Okanagan Hockey Academy.

Kehler isn’t the only WHL free agent signing made by the Kings in recent months. Defenceman Austin Strand of the division-rival Seattle Thunderbirds put pen to paper on a three-year entry-level deal with the Kings back on November 27.

Kehler and the Winterhawks return to action Friday evening (7 p.m. PT) when they host the Vancouver Giants at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

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