Often their best goaltender a year ago, Los Angeles Kings prospect Jonathan Quick still had to split time between the minor-league Manchester Monarchs and the NHL.
Kings coach Terry Murray was hesitant to hand him the job on a full-time basis.
But the 23-year-old kid from Connecticut has taken that title this season and is one of the biggest reasons for the Kings' spot on top of the Western Conference standings heading into tonight's duel with the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome.
"Jonathan Quick has been outstanding for us this year," Murray said.
"His development has been accelerated tremendously through his own hard work. Maybe by also getting a lot of games -- he seems to be getting the call most every night, and he's responding to the challenge."
Murray is the one making the call, and he's gone to Quick in 33 of 36 games so far this season.
The result? A tie with Martin Brodeur heading into last night's action with a league-best 20 wins.
Quick's 2.60 goals-against average and .904 save percentage aren't nearly as impressive, but he makes the saves necessary to earn victories and has been clutch as the team deals with injury troubles while still managing to stay in line with the San Jose Sharks.
Even more telling is the attention he's getting from Team USA in an Olympic year.
Buffalo Sabres star Ryan Miller and Boston Bruins veteran Tim Thomas are sure-things when GM Brian Burke announces his squad Jan. 1, but Quick and fellow surprise early-season NHL star Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche have made things difficult when picking a third backstop.
"I think, with his invitation to the U.S. Olympic camp last August, it was great for his confidence," Murray said.
"I'm really hoping for him that he's going to get an opportunity through the Olympics here to be a part of the U.S. team -- even if it's on the reserve list where he's the third guy.
"That would be wonderful for his growth in the long haul."
His development has already been as quick as his surname would suggest.
He might be No. 3 for Team USA, but he's undoubtedly No. 1 in L.A.
"When we broke training camp, I put that title on him," said Murray.
"That weighs pretty heavy on some young goaltenders.
"You're a little concerned, I think, as a coach, how he is going to respond to that.
"He's accepted it and he's grown with it. He really likes that title of being the No. 1 goaltender."
WHO TO WATCH
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THESE TWO GOALIES IN TONIGHT'S GAME
MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF, FLAMES
The best Flame since the start of November, and arguably all season, was given a rare night off Tuesday in St. Louis. Last time Kiprusoff had a one-game breather, he returned to go on a 4-0-1 tear. He's 14-6-1 in his career against the Kings.
JONATHAN QUICK, KINGS
Before the season, nobody knew which L.A. goalie would separate himself from the pack of young netminders looking to be the No.-1 man. Quick has done it. He's started 33 games and won 19 for a Kings team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.