Five players with California ties protected on NHL expansion lists

It says something about the caliber of hockey talent California is producing that five players with ties to the state were protected by their respective NHL teams when the teams were required to submit lists of players exempted from Wednesday’s expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here is a closer look at the five:

Defenseman Kevan Miller, Boston Bruins: That the Bruins kept Miller as one of three protected blue liners over veteran Adam McQuaid and younger players Colin Miller (a former Kings prospect when was part of the Martin Jones deal) and Joe Morrow says something about how far Miller has come and how much Boston values him. Miller was a plus player on a so-so defensive team and added 13 points in 58 games. He is under contract for three more seasons at $2.5 million per.

Forwards Rocco Grimaldi and Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche: Though it’s sometimes hard to tell what the Avs are trying to do, it appears the youth movement is on and these two will be part of it. Grimaldi was one of the top players in the American Hockey League this past season. His 31 goals were tied for third in the league and just two behind the AHL leader, and more than twice as many as any teammate. He added a team-high 55 points, 20 more than the next player in San Antonio. … Colorado added Nieto on a waiver claim from San Jose, and he played most nights after that. Though his 13 points were a career low, he’s just 24 and boasts plenty of speed and skill. Both players are restricted free agents, and I would expect both to be in Colorado full-time next season.

Defenseman Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings: The former Santa Clara Blackhawk and San Jose Jr. Shark had his best offensive season (39 points) for a fairly dismal offense in LA. He’s one of the Kings’ core players and is signed for four more seasons at $4 million per. He is a frequently mentioned trade target, and it’s not hard to see why he’d be in demand.

Forward Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: The arrow also is pointing up for the former LA Select, who put up a career-best 22 goals and 47 points for a playoff team. Part of that was staying healthy, he played in a career-high 79 games. The Las Vegas native has been infamously linked to the expansion team since it was announced, but his blend of speed and skill are is tailor-made for today’s NHL. He is under contract for one more season at $2 million … before he more than doubles that amount next summer.

Click here for a closer look at the nine players with California ties left unprotected for this week’s expansion draft

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Going to Quebec … and the NHL

It started with a simple request wondering if certain current NHL players had played in the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament. For those unfamiliar with the February event, it is the largest hockey tournament in the world for players ages 11-12 and regularly hosts teams from around the world.

I discovered a larger than expected group of Californians who had participated in the event went on the play at least one game in the NHL>

Numerous California teams have participated in it over the years, and several youth organizations continue to send teams, including the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Los Angeles Jr. Kings, San Diego Jr. Gulls and San Jose Jr. Sharks among others.

In the early years of the tournament, which has existed since 1960, regions of the state would assemble what were ostensibly all-star teams to play in Quebec. By the turn of the 21st Century that had shifted to specific clubs sending teams.

The high-water mark for a California team occurred in 2012 when the LA Selects 1999 team captured the AA-Elites Division. The roster included Cayla Barnes, a U.S. Women’s National U18 Team captain and Boston College commit; Brannon McManus, a Minnesota commit who is playing for Omaha in the USHL; John St. Ivany, a Yale commit who is playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL; Jake McGrew, who is playing for Spokane in the WHL; Ivan Lodnia, who is playing for Erie in the OHL; Cole Guttman, a St. Cloud State commit who is playing for Dubuque of the USHL; and Cooper Haar, who is playing for Bismarck in the NAHL.

 

Lodnia, McGrew, McManus and St. Ivany are on the 2017 NHL Entry Draft watch list.

Back to the discovery. A total of 19 players from California (or playing for California teams) who played in the Quebec have reached the NHL.

Some notables:

One player went three times – forward Rocco Grimaldi. Rocco went twice with the California Wave (2004-05) and again with Detroit Little Caesars in 2006. A 1993 birth year, he was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the second round (33rd overall) in 2011. He enjoyed a standout career at North Dakota, won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championship and made his NHL debut – at Staples Center of all places – in late 2014. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason and is scoring at a point-per-game clip in the AHL.

Six other players went twice – Richard Park (1989-90), Noah Clarke (1992-93), Beau Bennett (2003-04), and Emerson Etem, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker all in 2004-05.

  • Park was a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins (50th overall) in 1994. He played 738 NHL games, by far the most of a California-trained player. Born in Seoul, South Korea, his family moved to the South Bay when he was preschool-aged. He retired in 2014 and currently works for the Minnesota Wild.
  • Clarke was the first California-born and -trained player to play in a regular-season game for the Los Angeles Kings (on Dec. 17, 2003) and was a ninth-round pick (250th) overall in 1999. He was an NCAA standout at Colorado College and played 11 seasons of pro hockey, including 21 NHL games. He retired in 2013 and works in a family business.
  • Bennett remains the highest-drafted California player, going 20th overall in 2010 to Pittsburgh. He also became the first state native to play for a Stanley Cup winner this past spring. He was traded in the offseason to New Jersey and has played 136 NHL games over five seasons after playing two seasons at the University of Denver.
  • Etem was drafted nine spots after his former LA Hockey Club teammate in 2010 by the Anaheim Ducks after playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program and then piling up 167 goals in three WHL seasons. He has played 173 NHL games for the Ducks, Vancouver and New York Rangers. He was recently reacquired by the Ducks.
  • Nieto was picked 14 spots after Grimaldi in 2011 by the San Jose Sharks (47th overall) and has established himself in the League (210 games) in his first four seasons after three standout years at Boston University.
  • Zucker was picked in the second round (59th overall) of that 2010 draft by Minnesota and jumped right to the NHL in 2012 after two seasons at Denver. After two seasons split between the League and the AHL, he has earned a regular spot in the Wild’s lineup and has 179 NHL games under his belt.

Here is a complete list of the Californians at the Quebec tournament who have reached the NHL.

  • 1984 – Nick Vachon, LA Condors
  • 1989 – Richard Park, So. Cal Jr. Kings
  • 1990 – Richard Park, Toronto Young Nationals
  • 1992 – Noah Clarke, Ontario
  • 1993 – Noah Clarke and Garrett Stafford, California Jr. Kings
  • 1996 – Ryan Hollweg, Team California
  • 1998 – Gabe Gauthier and Brett Sterling, LA Jr. Kings
  • 1999 – Robbie Earl and Brian Salcido, LA Jr. Kings
  • 2001 – Bobby Ryan, LA Jr. Kings and Brett Sutter and Casey Wellman, San Jose Jr. Sharks
  • 2002 – Rhett Rahkshani, California Wave
  • 2003 – Beau Bennett, LA Jr. Kings
  • 2004 – Beau Bennett, Emerson Etem, Matthew Konan, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker, LA Hockey Club; Rocco Grimaldi, California Wave (6 of the 28)
  • 2005 – Emerson Etem, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker, LA Hockey; Rocco Grimaldi, California Wave
  • 2006 – Rocco Grimaldi, Little Caesars

 

 

Californians dot NHL prospect camp rosters

Summer is a great time to go camping, particularly if you’re a hockey player. Several young players with ties to California made appearances NHL development camps in the past month or so.

Some, like Austin Ortega and Collin Delia, went to multiple camps. Most are NHL free agents, but a few were draft picks.

Here is the rundown by player of who went where.

Delia, coming off a sophomore at Merrimack College in which he went 8-12-6 with a 2.96 goals-against average, attended the Anaheim Ducks’ camp as well as the Chicago Blackhawks’ a few weeks later. The 6-foot-2 net minder is from Rancho Cucamonga and played for OC Hockey Club, the California Wave, Stars and Titans.

Ortega, who will be a senior at Nebraska-Omaha, led the NCAA in game-winning goals for the second season in a row, with eight (one season after bagging 11). He went to camp with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Escondido native, a former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Hockey Club player, has 37 and 36 points in his past two college seasons.

Goaltender Thatcher Demko, a 2014 second-round pick of the Canucks, was in camp with Vancouver after being selected a Hobey Baker finalist after his junior season at Boston College. He posted an NCAA-best 10 shutouts and won 27 games for a Frozen Four team. His gas was 1.85 and he stopped nearly 94 percent of the shots he faced.

Fellow goaltenders Merrick Madsen and Ryan Ruck also went to camps.

Madsen, a 2013 pick by Philadelphia, was again at Flyers camp, but this time the Acton native and former California Heat player went on the heels of a stellar sophomore season at Harvard. Madsen went 18-7-3 with a .931 save percentage and a 1.99 gaa to go with his four shutouts.

No goalie in NCAA hockey may have been hotter than Ruck in the second half of his freshman season, when he went 19-2-2 to help Northeastern make a run into the NCAA Tournament. Ruck, from Coto de Caza and a former net minder for OC Hockey Club and LA Hockey, attended St. Louis Blues camp.

Tyler Moy, a Harvard teammate of Madsen’s, went to Nashville’s camp. Moy had 19 points during his junior year and was a 2015 draft pick of the Predators.

Defenseman Alec McCrea, like Moy and Demko a former Jr. Gull, went to Winnipeg’s camp. McCrea had an outstanding freshman season at Cornell, leading Big Red blue liners in points with 15.

Ortega was joined at Kings camp by former LA Hockey and Medicine Hat and Portland (WHL) standout Miles Koules, who played in the ECHL this past season.

Former LA Hockey forward Dennis Kravchenko of Laguna Niguel, who put up 28 points of Massachusetts as a sophomore, went to Calgary’s camp one summer after attending the Ducks’.

Forward Robby Jackson, who had 10 goals as a freshman for St. Cloud State, went to San Jose Sharks camp near his native Oakland. Jackson played for Santa Clara, LA Hockey and the Jr. Kings growing up.

Defenseman Scott Savage, who will be a senior at Boston College and who scored a career-high 18 points this past season, attended New Jersey’s camp.

A handful of players with ties to California clubs also made appearances.

  • Forward Nolan Stevens, a one-time Jr. King, joined his college teammate Ruck in Blues camp. St. Louis selected him in June’s Entry Draft.
  • Forward Josh Wilkins, a former Jr. King, attended Hurricanes camp in his native North Carolina.
  • Goalie Evan Sarthou, a Washington native who played for LA Hockey and the LA Jr. Kings and now plays for Tri-City of the Western Hockey League, went to Arizona’s camp.
  • Power forward Adam Erne, who played two seasons with LA Hockey but is from Connecticut, was in camp with Tampa for the fourth year in a row. Erne was a second-round pick of the Lightning in 2013.

But the best prospect camp story of the summer hands-down belongs to Savage’s former LA Hockey teammate Trevor Moore. Moore not only attended Toronto’s prospect camp but played so well that the Maple Leafs signed him to an entry-level contract before his senior season at the University of Denver. Moore, an All-American in 2014-15, had 44 points to help the Pioneers reach the Frozen Four.

NHL opportunities knocking

NHL.com (whether knowingly or not) highlighted two California hockey players who forever will be linked by their draft year (2010), their round (first) and their backgrounds playing for the now-defunct LA Hockey Club.

Forward Beau Bennett, taken 20th overall in ’10, is making a strong push to remain in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, according the league’s website. Unfortunately, the story did not make the California connection, though plenty of other ones have.

NHL.com also weighed in on Emerson Etem‘s growing role with the Ducks, and make no mistake, it is growing. Interesting to read NHL Network analysts Kevin Weekes‘ take on working out with Etem when Etem was just 13. The accolades Etem receives for his work ethic are justified (as I’ve witnessed those workouts in Venice), as are the ones about his upbeat attitude.

That is something else Bennett and Etem, share – phenomenal, team-first attitudes and a truly grateful outlook for all the sport has given them (and undoubtedly will give them).

But they’ve got company from California this season.

In the past month, two defenseman have made their debuts and both will be profiled in the upcoming issue of California Rubber Magazine.

Matt Tennyson made his first NHL appearance on April 1 and has played three games, picking up two assists. Though he played just a few seasons for the San Jose Jr. Sharks growing up, his family now calls California home. Tennyson was part of a large group of players I affectionately termed the Cali-mazooans, who played for Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That group included Brett Beebe, Garrett Haar, Chase Balisy, Dennis Brown, Robert Francis and J.J. Crew. Tennyson signed with the Sharks last spring and has spent most of this season in the AHL.

And lastly but not least is defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whom I spoke to this week for a story. As with the other three, Ruhwedel was a delight to speak with. Unlike the other three, Ruhwedel jumped directly from college to the NHL through a whirlwind of events last week.

Consider that last Thursday (April 10), he was playing in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh against eventual champion Yale. Less than 36 hours later, the smooth-skating defenseman was on his way to Buffalo for a physical, to sign his contract, get his gear and play in an afternoon game, which the Sabres won.

All of this for a player who spent exactly one season playing AAA hockey in California (for the Jr. Kings) and only a handful playing AA growing up in San Diego county.

This is the first time the state has had four players make NHL debuts in a single season, to say nothing of the fact that 40 percent of said season was lost due to a lockout.

Congratulations to these four!

2013 California NHL Draft prospects, mid-term

NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings were released this week, and there are four players with ties to California who were listed: Eric Comrie, Adam Erne, Merrick Madsen and Trevor Moore.

There also were a handful of players who, in my opinion, were overlooked. It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me because the CSS rankings tend to trend heavily toward CHL prospects, usually at the expense of U.S.-born players in the USHL. More on that later.

Here are the four that CSS ranked:

Eric Comrie is the second-ranked North American goaltending prospect, and it’s not hard to see why he’s generating buzz that he could be a first-round pick come June. The 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie has a 20-14-3 record, 2.62 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for a young, middle of the pack Tri-City Americans team in the Western Hockey League. The former LA Select is tied for fourth in wins, is seventh in save percentage and eighth in gaa in the WHL.

Left wing Adam Erne is rated 13th among North American skaters and is enjoying an excellent season with Quebec of the QMJHL. Erne scored a goal in Wednesday night’s CHL Top Prospects game, and leads his team in scoring with 54 points (20 goals and 34 assists) in 43 games. He’s also plus-9. He played two seasons of Bantam hockey for the LA Selects.

Left wing Trevor Moore is the 108th-ranked North American skater, and is enjoying a fine season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He leads the Storm in scoring, with 38 points (15-23) in 35 games and has been among the league’s top-10 or close to it in scoring all season. The 5-10, 175-pound Denver University commit also played for the LA Selects.

Merrick Madsen, who is playing for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, checks in as the 34th-ranked North American goalie prospect. Madsen has committed to Harvard. Prior to going to prep school, he played for the California Heat, West Valley Wolves and Valencia Express. His mom is the Heat’s club president and his father coaches at the club.

The first three players on this list all were teammates for the Selects’ 95s, coached by Sandy Gasseau, Rick Kelly and Bill Comrie. A handful of their teammates also could gain some consideration, including USNTDP defenseman Scott Savage and Shattuck St. Mary’s center Max Becker. Savage has 5 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games for the national program, while Becker was third on SSM’s varsity with 48 points (12-36) through 38 games.

Three other prospects have generated a fair amount of buzz, and with good reason, yet none appear in the rankings, adding fuel to my belief of the CSS’ bias.

USNTDP goaltender Thatcher Demko has been very good this season, compiling a 13-5-2 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 22 starts. He’s been even better in international competitions. He helped Team USA win the Four Nations Cup in November, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 gaa. The former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Jr. King stands 6-4, and it is a head scratcher to me why he isn’t ranked when every coach and scout I’ve spoken with has raved about the Boston College commit.

Another goaltender who has had a very good first half to his season is former Orange County Hockey Club netminder Artt Brey, who started 12-0 for Dubuque in the USHL and had a 16-3-2 records midway through the season. The win total and his 2.11 gaa were tied for second in the league, and his .907 save percentage was in the top 10. He’s a ’94, and that in part explains his omission.

And Moore’s Tri-City teammate Garrett Gamez also has generated some buzz. The 6-foot, 180-pound DU commit had 10 points (6-4) with a plus-3 mark in his first 27 games of junior. He played for LA Hockey and OC Hockey.

NHL debut candidates from California

They’re halfway through NHL training camps — already! It’s been just three days, and I see three candidates from California to possibly make their NHL debuts in the near future, and a fourth prospect with ties to the state to be in a team’s lineup come this weekend.

1. Wing Beau Bennett spent some time in Penguins practice on a line with All-Stars Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday. Bennett, a former LA Jr. King and LA Select who is in his first pro season after two NCAA seasons at Denver University, led Pittsburgh’s AHL club (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) in scoring with 24 points in 30 games. It’s a not a stretch at all that he will be in the Penguins’ lineup on opening night, and I have no doubt he will play several NHL games this season

2. Defenseman Matt Tennyson is in camp with the San Jose Sharks after a making a strong showing during his first pro season, ranking near the top of the Worcester (AHL) scoring list all season. Tennyson, who played two seasons for the Jr. Sharks before heading off to Juniors, spent the past three seasons at Western Michigan University with several other Californians before leaving school to sign with the Sharks as a free agent. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster he almost surely will be the first D-man called up.

3. Wing Emerson Etem also is in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His skating and scoring touch give him a chance to be with the club at some point this season, though his first pro season, after an absolutely dominant WHL campaign a year ago, has been sluggish at times. The Ducks have three forward openings to fill with younger players and/or veteran free agents, and Etem (like Bennett a 2010 first-round pick) certainly is in the mix. The guess (emphasis on guess) is that he will play up at some point this year but not at the start of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Bennett’s DU teammate, Jason Zucker, who made his debut with the Minnesota Wild last season. He has been off to a strong start with the AHL Houston Aeros, leading them in scoring for much of the season. With the Wild perpetually searching for more offense, he’s in a good position to start the season with them. But Minnesota is loaded with prospects, and it might decide he needs a bit more seasoning in the A before bringing him up.

Kerdiles, Haar survive US WJC cuts

Forward Nic Kerdiles and defenseman Garrett Haar survived the first round of cuts Tuesday at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The former LA Selects were among four players with ties to California originally invited to the 45-man camp. Forward Adam Reid, also a former Select, was among Tuesday’s cuts, and forward Rocco Grimaldi, who played for the California Wave, did not attend the camp while he rehabs a knee injury.

Kerdiles (’94) was a second-round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in June’s NHL Entry Draft. The leading scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U18 squad last season, he will begin his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.

Haar (’93) emerged as a force on the blue line for Western Michigan University last season after being a seventh-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Reid (’93) is entering his second season at Northeastern University, while Grimaldi (’93) — a second-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft — will be a redshirt freshman at North Dakota after injuries limited his true freshman season to four games.