Among those attending LA Kings Rookie Camp this week will be goaltender John Lethemon, who hopes to join the Ontario Reign in 2021-22.

As the LA Kings prepare for the start of rookie camp later this week, they will have a few unfamiliar names participating. One of those names will be goaltender John Lethemon, who is one of two invitees with an Ontario Reign contract.

Despite signing with the Reign just prior to the start of the 2020-21 campaign, John Lethemon didn’t play at all for the Reign last season. Instead, the 25-year-old suited up for the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits for 25 games, going 13-5-5 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. Now, with his first taste of professional hockey under his belt, Lethemon will hope to graduate to the AHL in a battle for a Reign roster spot between the pipes with fellow camp attendees Lukas Parik and Jacob Ingham.

Prior to his season in the ECHL, Lethemon played four seasons at Michigan State under a coaching staff that includes USNTDP veteran Joe Exter, whom I recently spoke with about the former Spartan netminder. We began by discussing the coach’s first impressions of Lethemon went he arrived in East Lansing as a freshman in 2016.

“First impression is that he was a worker who was a detailed person both on and off the ice,” Exter said. “He carried himself like a professional at a young age, even in college, and I think that is why he was able to reach the level that he was able to reach while here, and then after when he left and went in the [ECHL] and then onto Ontario.”

In his four seasons at Michigan State, Lethemon’s numbers gradually improved.

In his freshman campaign, the Northville, MI, native accumulated a lackluster 2-10-1 record with less-than-stellar GAA and save percentage with 3.59 and .873, respectively. To the goaltender’s credit, though, not only was he unfazed by these numbers, but he was extremely determined to make his sophomore season worth remembering. Yet, while his 12-19-2 record looked unimpressive on paper, Lethemon’s 2017-18 year was leaps and bounds better, especially thanks to a 2.88 GAA.

En route to Lethemon’s turnaround season, though, the netminder learned to capitalize on his 6’2″ frame, immensely piquing the interest of his coaching staff.

“His biggest improvement on the ice was with his stance and presentation in the net that allowed him to use his athleticism and his play in puck tracking,” Exter observed. “It’s always good to coach players that want to get better, are willing to change in order to get better, and I think John was both of them. He came in here with a work ethic, and he had it for his whole time here. He was constantly looking for ways to improve and get better.

But that wasn’t all.

“The biggest improvement was his off-ice game,” Exter added. “He got stronger, he got bigger, and with those two things, he was able to get faster.”

While he did move on from Michigan State, Exter admitted that he continued to follow Lethemon’s game. While impressed with his play in Greenville, the Michigan State coach wasn’t too surprised. After all, he and his coaching staff — former NHLers Danton Cole and Chris Luongo — helped prepare for their netminder for the pros as best as they could.

“He’s an athletic-controlled goaltender who has a mind for reading the game in situations that are presented to him,” Exter noted of Lethemon. “That is what pro goaltending is: staying a step ahead of your opponent and position yourself properly, so you can make effective saves and be ready for second-chance opportunities or lateral passes. John constantly works on that, and he has the skill set to manage his crease so that he can replace it properly and make effective saves. But, in today’s game, you have to be athletic because it will get chaotic in front of you, and he has that inside of him, as well.”

Upon his departure from East Lansing, though, Lethemon was given some important advice as he prepared for the next step in his hockey career.

“The daily grind: that’s going to constantly be there,” Exter echoed of his staff’s advice to Lethemon. “Don’t judge yourself based on what’s going on around you, don’t judge and try to predict the opportunities that you’re going to get, but just be ready when your name is called if you want to climb a ladder in hockey. He has the mentality, the work ethic, and overall gumption inside of him to do all of those things.”

While he may not be competing for a roster spot with the LA Kings, John Lethemon is nonetheless hoping to make a positive mark on the organization.

The Ontario Reign have Matt Villalta in goal who will likely continue as the club’s starter. Behind Villalta, that’s another story. John Lethemon will have his hands full in terms of his competition with the aforementioned Parik and Ingham. It is worth noting, however, that the latter was teammates with Lethemon in Greenville last season, so perhaps a rapport between the two will help this coming week at rookie camp. We will see.

Overall, expect a good showing from John Lethemon this week as he will be as determined as ever to showcase his under-the-radar talent.

Kings rookie camp — or the 2021 Rookie Faceoff — will begin this Friday (Sept. 17) and run until Monday, Sept. 20. The camp will take place in Arizona between Glendale’s Gila River Arena and the Scottsdale Ice Den. In addition to the Kings and the host Arizona Coyotes, the event will also feature the rookies of the Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Colorado Avalanche.

Information for tickets and streaming can be found at arizonacoyotes.com/rookiefaceoff.

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