Earlier this year I had written an article about the players who I felt would dominate the NHL in the next decade. I listed LA Kings defenseman Sean Walker among the honorable mentions. Walker was having a breakthrough season before the pause and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him about his time in the NHL.

Sean Walker is one of the best-untold stories in the league. Being among the leaders in points on the Kings, he has quietly become one of the bright spots during this rebuild in LA.

For Walker, his path to the NHL was very different then many of his teammates. Walker was undrafted and had spent four seasons at Bowling Green State University before being invited to the Kings Development Camp in the summer of 2017. Walker would then earn a spot on the Kings’ AHL affiliate the Ontario Reign for the 2017-18 season. Walker had continued to excel and eventually earned a call up to the NHL the following year.

NHL Debut & First Goal 

Like so many before him, Walker had dreamed of playing in the NHL. In his grade 12 yearbook, he even wrote that his future ambition was to “become the #1 defenseman for the LA Kings.” He would make his debut on October 23rd 2018 against the Dallas Stars.

“What are the chances that would actually happen, pretty wild coincidence”, said Walker when asked about what he had written.

Walker hit the ground running on his debut as he recorded his first career point in the game, setting up Tyler Toffoli’s goal. Walker credits his time in the minors on why he has been able to have such a great start to his career.

“It prepared me very well. There are tons of guys in the minors that easily could be playing in the NHL. You’re prepared for the skill, the size of the guys and the speed of the play. When you make that jump it’s about the execution because the mistakes are non-existent. Almost everybody out there is making the right play, in the right spot doing the right thing.”

His first goal would come against the Colorado Avalanche on December 31st 2018. After having a goal taken away earlier in the game on a goalie interference call, Walker would later show off his skill on offense. Taking the puck from the top of zone Walker skated right past Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen then continued around the net finishing off a fantastic wrap-around goal.

“It was a rollercoaster of a game for emotions but I couldn’t have been happier to end up scoring and scoring a wrap around was pretty funny that’s for sure. It’s something I’ll never forget”.

In today’s NHL, defensemen need to have a great overall game to succeed. Their play on offense needs to be just as good as the play on the back-end. Walker has been described as a low-risk, high reward kind of player and in the system that Coach Todd McLellan has instituted in LA, it allows for many opportunities to show off his great skill on offense. This has been a huge benefit to his growth as a player.

“When you watch other teams in the O zone, their D are moving around tons creating a lot of confusion. That’s kind of something he preaches and for me that’s an area of my game that I excel at a bit, to be able to have the go ahead from the coaches helps a lot. It works in my favour a lot.”

Life as a LA King

Walker has gone on to play in 109 games in the NHL. During his time in LA, he has been able to play with some of the best defensemen in the league. Walker lined up with Dion Phaneuf for much of his rookie year while also playing with former Kings defensemen and now Maple Leaf, Jake Muzzin. This season he also had the chance to be paired with Kings legend, Drew Doughty

“It’s a whole other comfort level that you have when you’re out there with Drew. He’s an elite defenseman, the way he can talk on the game, break plays up, break the puck out and make plays in the offensive zone. Everything he does helps everyone around him. Seeing the way he approaches the game up close, it helps and you just feed off everything he’s doing and you feel more confident going out there.”

Doughty is among one of the best personalities in the NHL and when asked if he is always like that, Walker said,

“Yup, that’s him every day no matter what time it is no matter where we are, anything. Always having a good time always got a smile always making jokes. He’s an awesome guy to be around”.

It is this type of bonding within the team that Walker admits has made things so much easier for him.

“It’s a collective group; all the older guys were so nice when I first got there. Within the first two weeks when I got called up for the first time, Kopitar had asked me if I wanted to go golf and I got to talk to them and get to know them a bit better. On ice, I was with Dion, he was making sure I had a handle on everything and was comfortable going out there. There’s an endless amount of people that are there to help you out.”

Playing Against the Elite 

Credit: LA Kings

When Maple Leafs had traded for Jake Muzzin last season, the opportunity to play a bigger role within the team had appeared for Walker. He continued to excel and that would lead to much more time on the ice against some of the league’s best. When asked who is the toughest player to play against, Walker had a very obvious answer, Oilers Captain Connor McDavid.

“He’s on a whole other level. If he’s coming down full speed you’re not sure if he’s going to burn you wide or deke you or just make you look silly some way. Then if he gets the chance to get the puck and start wheeling and nobody can catch up to him. That gives him time and space and then he might look like he’s going on a break-away and he’s sliding it back door to Draisaitl. He’s just elite and unbelievable to watch.”

Walker also had a lot of praise for Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews when describing what it is like to play against him.

“He’s another one of those elite players that when he has the puck he’s dangerous at all times. When you’re out there against him, you’re always worried about what’s going to happen.”

Hockey in the Sun

Having now played almost one full season in the NHL, Walker has had the opportunity to experience almost every arena in the league and he describes Vegas as being the craziest.

“It’s just crazy there, it seems that their sound system is louder than anybody else’s and their fans are wild. It’s definitely an experience playing there.”

While we have all seen the shows that Vegas can put on Walker says, LA is just as good. Despite being in the shadow of the Lakers and Clippers, he admits that the narrative that they don’t care about hockey in LA isn’t true.

“The fans are great actually. I can see some people thinking that it’s not the greatest atmosphere but I’d say 90%-80% of the games are almost sold out, they love it. The fans are awesome and they are always cheering loud. Have to give them credit; obviously, we haven’t been the greatest over the past two years. For them to still show up and give us the support they do is amazing. That’s the one thing you want, you want to go to your home rink and play in front of an enthusiastic crowd and I think we have that in LA.”

There is no doubt there are not many better places to play in than California. Not only is the weather amazing but there’s a loyal fan base that supports the Kings.

Homecoming : First Game in Toronto

For Walker, however, one of the more special nights came on November 5th 2019, when he played his first game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Growing up a Leafs fan, this was a very special moment for him.

“It was crazy, that was probably the most nervous I had been for a game since my debut just because I knew so many friends and family were going to be there. It was definitely a surreal experience and it was amazing to play there against the Leafs. It really was a special moment in my career.”

This had been a full-circle moment for Walker. For years, like so many before him, he dreamed of playing in the NHL. Growing up just north of Toronto and seeing the Leafs play many times as a kid, to finally getting to play in front of his home crowd is very special.

Walker is a role model for so many. Despite taking a longer and more difficult road, he made it to the NHL. Where many would have quit and given up, he continued to play and work at his game. He had predicted it in grade 12 and now he’s living his dream. I have no doubt you will be seeing much more of him in the years to come.