TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The moment Alexis Gravel saw his name appear on the screen at American Airlines Center, it changed everything.
Bouncing from Germany to Italy to Toronto to Quebec while growing up, Gravel — the son of a journeyman professional goalie — wasn’t sure if his hard work would ever pay off. Then, late in the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, the Blackhawks selected him 162nd overall.
“That was a huge turning point for me with my motivation,” the now-19-year-old goalie said. “I don’t want to prove the other teams wrong. I want to prove the Blackhawks right.”
Gravel has thrived since being drafted.
He was one of the top breakout players in Canadian juniors last season, as his save percentage with the Halifax Mooseheads skyrocketed from .890 in 2017-18 to .913 in 2018-19. He earned QMJHL Goalie of the Month honors twice in the regular season, then led Halifax to the Memorial Cup Finals.
He has followed up that solid spring with an eye-catching summer.
Gravel’s .879 save percentage (29 saves on 33 shots) in the Hawks’ Traverse City tournament-opening win last Friday didn’t scream “great game,” but it truly was. He bailed out a leaky Hawks defense on many occasions, and made a game-saving desperation stop in the final minute.
Then on Tuesday, in the Hawks’ tournament-closing 6-1 win against the Wild, Gravel passed both the eye and numbers test.
He came within two minutes of a shutout and finished with 27 saves on 28 shots, decisively outdueling Minnesota starter and QMJHL rival goalie Dereck Baribeau. He saw the puck calmly through traffic, reacted swiftly to deflections and limited second-chance opportunities.
“He stood on his head,” Rockford IceHogs coach Derek King said. “He’s got some confidence. He’s just poised in the net. There’s no panic. There were a couple shots [that were] definitely screened, where you think it’s going in, and he was just square to the puck. It hits him and the rebound comes, and he swipes it away.”
Gravel said staying square has been a point of emphasis in his training, because with his hulking 6-3, 218-pound frame, it doesn’t take much more than that to block the puck.
Hawks developmental goaltending coach Peter Aubry visited Gravel several times last season in Quebec, then helped him more this week on that very thing.
“I worked this summer a lot on being more square, because with my size, if I’m square, it’s a huge advantage,” Gravel said. “I know when I am [square], I have good enough hands to most of the time save it.”
The young netminder remains years away from pushing for a job with the Hawks — such is the nature of the goaltender development curve — and his game is far from fully refined, with his skate work and lateral quickness still in need of improvement.
Nevertheless, Gravel is tentatively trending towards becoming the first drafted Hawks goalie to play in multiple career NHL games since 2003 selection Corey Crawford. For the last 15 months, since seeing his own name appear on the draft board, that thought has never left the back of his mind.
“I just want to make sure I’m going to play with them one day,” he said. “I’m trying everything that I can to make sure I will.”