When the Los Angeles Kings hired him in the summer of 2015, it was, in a way, the beginning of a new era. Dusty Imoo was brought in as the Kings’ new goaltending development coach, replacing Kim Dillabaugh, who headed east to join the Philadelphia Flyers.
To suggest that Imoo had big shoes to fill was a mild understatement.
Photo credit: Andrew D. Bernstein

Dillabaugh, who had spent the previous eight seasons with the Kings, was instrumental in the development of such netminders as Martin Jones, Jonathan Bernier and, of course, Jonathan Quick. Additionally, upon Imoo’s hire, the Kings’ new goalie development coach was in for a challenge.
Just weeks earlier, the aforementioned Martin Jones had been traded, first to the Boston Bruins and then the rival San Jose Sharks. Shortly afterwards, prospects Jean-Francois Berube and Patrik Bartosak would be lost to waivers and legal issues, respectively. Injuries would also take its toll on another Kings prospect in Alec Dillon. Needless to say, a team who once had an embarrassment of riches in goal, if you will, was suddenly depleted.
Since 2015, thanks in large part to Imoo’s contributions, the Kings organization has worked diligently to restore their depth between the pipes.
In addition to the likes of Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen — both of whom are establishing themselves in the professional ranks — the Kings added to their depth in goal by exploring the Canadian major-junior ranks. Last June, the silver-and-black used their third-round draft choice (72nd overall) to take Matt Villalta, an 18-year-old netminder from the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Recently, I spoke with Dusty Imoo about Matt Villalta, starting with how he felt when the Kings drafted the netminder last year.
“I knew of his potential and I was happy,” Imoo said. “Matt was very good technically and it seemed like there was a good upside to him.”
Photo credit: Matt Hiscox

Upon being drafted last year, while Villalta had just one OHL season under his belt, it was nonetheless an impressive one.
In 33 games in 2016-17, the 6-foot-2 netminder posted an incredible 25-3-0 record, helping to lead the Greyhounds to a second-place finish in the Western Conference. The following season, after trading starter Joseph Raaymakers, the Greyhounds gave Villalta more responsibility between the pipes. The native of Kingston, Ont., was up to the challenge.
In 49 games for the Greyhounds this season, Villalta posted a stellar 40-5-2 record, leading his club to a first-place finish but also to franchise records with 55 wins and 116 points.
If that weren’t enough, Villalta led the Soo to their first OHL Final in 25 years, but not before signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Kings.
I asked Imoo what his expectations for Villalta are now having signed an ELC with the Kings.
“Expectations, I really don’t look at it that way,” Imoo told me. “I believe in Matty and I believe that he can be an NHL goalie.
Imoo continued.
“For me, it’s like how I like to go about developing. I don’t emphasize or put the focus on what the end goal is. Do you know what I mean?
“There’s no, ‘Okay, we want Matt Villalta to be the number-one goalie for the L.A. Kings.’ My goal is that I get a hold of [his team’s netminders] and work with them so that I can help give them the best opportunity to make the NHL, being an NHL goalie and to journey on and to help them improve.”
Photo credit: OHL Images

Matt Villalta is no exception to this. After all, despite leading the Soo to the OHL Final, the big netminder has had his struggles this postseason as his 3.12 GAA and .895 save percentage can attest. Conversely, Villalta has shown plenty of signs that he’s a game-changer as his 36-save performance on Saturday night — to even their series vs. Hamilton — can also attest.
When I*spoke with Greyhounds head coach Drew Bannister in March, he admitted that while Villalta is not NHL-ready just yet, time is definitely on the side of the 18-year-old netminder.
The Kings’ goaltending development coach agrees.
“He’s still a kid and there’s a long way for him to go,” Imoo said. “But, I believe, especially now I know him well and have worked with him, especially because of that, I totally have faith that [Villalta] can be [an NHL] goalie.”
Just under a month shy of his 19th birthday, it is likely that Villalta will be returning to the Soo next season for a third year of junior. In addition to his age, the Kings’ restored depth in goal, it can be argued, has helped make Villalta’s road to the professional ranks a more patient one.
Dusty Imoo mapped out his focus for Villalta’s development moving forward.
“For me, I really don’t focus on [not being NHL-ready],” Imoo emphasized. “My focus is just to work with him and help with alongside his goalie coach [in Sault Ste. Marie] just so he’s on the right track, and then [working with Matt] in the summers at the [development] camps. But his work ethic, he’s going to do whatever he can to turn pro, I’m sure, to give himself that shot. Timeframe, he has a ton of time, so that’s good for him.”
As for Dusty Imoo, his work prior to joining the Kings coaching staff is on display in this year’s NHL playoffs.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Tom Mihalek

While with the Winnipeg Jets organization, Dusty Imoo was working with the club’s then-AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps. During that time, Imoo was integral in the development of netminder Connor Hellebuyck.
This past season, Hellebuyck, a native of Commerce, Mich., posted a 44-11-9 record to go along with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage. This led to the 24-year-old earning a Vezina nomination as the NHL’s Top Goaltender. Hellebuyck followed that up by leading the Jets to within a game of their first Conference Final berth in franchise history (for either version of the club).
Not bad for a kid drafted 130th overall.
Photo credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, while Hellebuyck’s performance isn’t Kings-related, this writer felt remiss if he didn’t ask the Kings’ goalie development coach for his thoughts on his former student’s breakout campaign.
“Well, the whole year,” Imoo started, unable to conceal his pride. “I mean, there’s his Vezina nomination. Any time anyone that I had the pleasure to work with achieves goals like that, it’s just such a good feeling because, at least with the way I coach, we become pretty close, becoming friends with them. So, even though I’m not in the same organization now, I still follow [Hellebuyck] and I’m so happy for him.”
Additionally, while in St. John’s, Imoo also worked with veteran netminder Peter Budaj who, albeit in a backup role, is enjoying success with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, on Sunday after, the Lightning*punched their ticket to this year’s Eastern Conference Final. Despite not seeing any playing time this postseason, Budaj has nonetheless enjoyed a career resurgence thanks to Imoo’s help after a banner, albeit brief, stint with the Kings.
Overall, this has turned out to be a promising spring for Dusty Imoo both on a personal and a professional level. In addition to Hellebuyck’s and Budaj’s success, Kings prospect Matt Villalta is working to not only bring an OHL Championship back to the Soo but to return the Greyhounds to the Memorial Cup to battle for major-junior hockey supremacy in Canada.
Photo credit: Matt Hiscox

Not too long ago, the goaltending picture for the Los Angeles Kings organization was sparse. Since then, though, the organization’s goaltending picture has only gotten better. Included in said turnaround is Matt Villalta who, thanks partially to Dusty Imoo’s help, has the makings to give the Kings fanbase confidence that their team will be solid between the pipes for years to come.
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