While scouts were being mesmerized by Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov back in 2013, an unknown defenseman named Sean Walker was finding his way in the Ontario Jr. A League with the Newmarket Hurricanes. Walker would go undrafted that summer, but the late-bloomer is now playing solid minutes for the Los Angeles Kings. And it didn’t hurt that he spent his college days at Bowling Green.
Two of Bowling Green’s most famous alumni just happen to work for the Kings now: GM Rob Blake and director of player personnel Nelson Emerson. That made for some easy conversations once Walker got into the organization as a free agent, but he earned his way up the ladder. Walker was signed to a two-year AHL contract in 2017, then played so well for the Ontario Reign that the Kings tore up the deal after one season and signed him to a new NHL pact. Now, on a Kings team in transition, he’s playing 18:42 per night and contributing some secondary offense.
“He’s a tremendous skater,” said coach Todd McLellan. “He’s got great anticipation skills, he’s given us a fifth of a season of real good hockey so far and I didn’t anticipate that going in. It just goes to show that you don’t always know players from the outside until you get in as a coach, or you’re in the room and you begin to understand what makes players tick. You begin to appreciate them a lot more and ‘Walks’ is one of those guys.”
And the Kings haven’t been sheltering the 24-year-old too much. After getting his feet wet in 39 NHL games last season, Walker has been a mainstay this year, largely playing on a pairing with veteran Alec Martinez.
“I tell him all the time, he’s got some of the quickest first two, three, four strides, so he can skate himself out of trouble a lot,” Martinez said. “He’s a smart player and his feet are a big asset for him. His transition game is pretty strong and he’s good at holding a line or picking off a pass and going the other way pretty quickly.”
It’s a nice little story for a player who wasn’t exactly a hot commodity when he was younger. For example, why did Walker choose Bowling Green for college?
“Honestly?” he said. “It was my only offer.”
But once Walker got to campus, he found a program that had a great relationship with its players and as soon as he got to put on that Falcons jersey at home, he learned the power of the student section.
“They were loud, they were rowdy and they had good chants,” he said. “They were awesome through my four years. It was always funny when the other team’s lineup was announced and they’d say ‘Who’s he? Nobody.’ It was pretty funny.”
Martinez knows the Bowling Green faithful well, since he played for cross-state Ohio rival Miami.
“It was a tough spot to play,” he said. “Their student section really got into it and every guy I’ve talked to loved playing there. It’s a pretty storied program.”
Lately, the Falcons have often jousted with Minnesota State for tops in the WCHA and it was actually a pair of undrafted Mavericks that gave Walker hope for a pro future as he progressed in college: Zach Palmquist signed with the Minnesota Wild, while Casey Nelson inked a deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Walker saw those two as comparables to himself in both style and production.
“At that time I was uncertain of where it would go,” Walker said. “I just thought to myself ‘play and let’s see what happens.’ Then sophomore, junior year, you start to see the guys getting signed to contracts and I saw it was probably something I could do too. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to get an AHL contract and went from there.”
Now, Walker finds himself in the same room as Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick - not to mention a growing cast of youngsters like himself trying to get Los Angeles back on track.
“We have a great core of young guys and you can see the skill and potential there,” he said. “Then to have those veteran guys – it’s pretty crazy, I’m sure lots of us grew up watching them win those Stanley Cups – it’s amazing have them on the team.”
Not bad for an overlooked kid from Newmarket.
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