Nine players with California ties left unprotected for NHL expansion draft

A total of nine players with ties to California were left unprotected by the NHL teams holding their rights in advance of Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft to stock the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster and system.

What follows is a closer look at them and their chances of staying put or making travel arrangements for the desert.

Forwards Emerson Etem and Nic Kerdiles, Anaheim Ducks: Etem returned to the franchise after stops in New York and Vancouver and played three games in Anaheim and one in San Diego before an injury ended his season. … After recovering from a concussion, Kerdiles made his NHL debut and then played four playoff games for the Ducks after the Gulls’ season ended. In between, he was one of San Diego’s better scorers, getting 15 points in 27 regular-season games and eight more in eight playoff games.

What’s next? Etem offers lineup versatility, speed and a scoring touch. Once healthy, the restricted free agent probably is going to camp on a two-way contract – with Anaheim or someone else. … Kerdiles signed a one-year contract on Saturday and might figure into the Ducks’ plans next season. He also can play on any line. … With all of the defensemen the Ducks exposed it’s highly unlikely either is taken by Vegas.

Defenseman Matt Tennyson, Carolina Hurricanes: Just 27, the big blue liner played in a career-high 45 NHL games this season and nine more in the AHL.

What’s next: He’s proven he can handle the rigors of the NHL game and has a good shot to play somewhere full-time. If Vegas passes on goalie Cam Ward, I see Tennyson as a very strong candidate to get picked. The unrestricted free agent wouldn’t cost much and he can either step into the Golden Knights’ lineup or be a leader for their AHL team and with NHL plug-and-play capability.

Forward Mitch Callahan, Detroit Red Wings: Tough and skilled, Callahan heads into unrestricted free agency for the first time this offseason. And his timing could not have been better. In addition to playing four more games with Detroit, he nearly set a career-high in points (43) and added 16 goals for Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids. He was one of the Griffins’ best players in the postseason, added 16 more points in 19 games.

What’s next: He’s done about all you can in the AHL, and at just 25, it’s time for him to get a shot at a regular NHL job, whether in Detroit, Vegas or elsewhere. His UFA status might work against him the way the expansion rules are set up (Vegas can sign up to five UFAs). But he would make some sense for a cash- or prospect-strapped team to sign.

Defenseman Taylor Aronson, Nashville Predators: The Predators still own his rights despite him spending this past season playing in Russia with Tolyatti Lada, where he had 15 points in 51 games.

What’s next: He won’t be taken, not with the bevy of young, skilled forwards the Predators had to expose.

Forwards Beau Bennett and Shane Harper, New Jersey Devils: Bennett, the highest drafted Californian ever (20th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010), played in a career-high 65 games and posted career bests in goals (eight) and points (19). Still, given how starved for offense New Jersey was and talented Bennett is, it’s a head scratcher he didn’t play on a scoring line or on the power play. … Harper made his NHL debut in his seventh season of pro hockey with Florida and played 14 games for the Panthers before he was traded to New Jersey’s organization. He has elite speed and, like Bennett, excellent hockey sense.

What’s next: Expansion teams typically need offense, and Bennett could be a good, low-cost option to provide some. Just 25, his upside remains considerable. Still, the Devils also exposed defensemen Jon Merrill and Ben Lovejoy as well as a couple of backup goalie options, so it’s less likely – though not impossible – the restricted free agent is picked. … Harper is unrestricted and could help a team looking for speed and lineup versatility with a bit of scoring touch.

Forward Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators: The former LA Jr. King is one of the biggest names out there for the taking, but there is a case against taking him if you’re Vegas. For one, Ryan had his worst season (25 points). For another, he’s 30 and he ‘s under contract for five more seasons at $7.25 million per. Still, he is an elite talent and capable of scoring 30-plus goals per season, and there aren’t many of those anywhere in the NHL, much less on the expansion list. He also seemed revitalized by Ottawa’s deep playoff run, scoring 15 points (several big goals among them) in 19 games.

What’s next: I don’t see Vegas picking him, though it wouldn’t be the worst idea if it did. The belief here is the Senators exposed too many good defenseman for the Golden Knights to pass on one of them.

Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Ruhwedel is another player who could not have timed his best season any better. Not only did the unrestricted free agent to be become the second native Californian (after Bennett) on a Stanley Cup-winning team, but he played 34 regular-season games (getting 10 points) for that champion and six more in the postseason. He added 16 points in 28 AHL games.

What’s next: With Marc-Andre Fleury, Ian Cole, Brandon Rust and Nick Bonino on the Penguins’ expansion list, Ruhwedel won’t get picked by Vegas, but he will be an attractive option for teams looking for a fast, skilled and responsible defenseman in the $1-2 million person range. He could very well make the leap to full-time NHLer next season.

Click here for a look at the five players with California ties who were placed on the protected expansion draft lists.

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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.

Californians at NHL Prospects Camps

The hockey season doesn’t end, it just goes through different phases. At least that was the impression I got from talking to the two California-born and -trained prospects selected in June’s NHL Entry Draft recently.

Gracious though they were, it was clear Thatcher Demko (2nd round, Vancouver) and Chase De Leo (fourth round, Winnipeg) were craving a bit of a break. They won’t say it but who could blame them.

Demko played well into April, helping lead Boston College to the Frozen Four despite the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season. He emerged as the Eagles’ starter in net as the season wore on and stayed there with impressive results (16-5-3, 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage).

De Leo and the Portland Winterhawks advanced to a Game 7 against eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton in the WHL finals. De Leo played a big role in the Winterhawks’ success, racking up 81 points (including 39 goals) in 72 regular-season games and adding 19 more points in 21 playoff games. And he had a plus-49 rating and was solid in the circle.

At the end of May, it was on to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Then, the bubbly had barely dried on the Kings’ second Stanley Cup in three seasons when the draft rolled around in late June.

Within two weeks, most NHL teams held their prospect camps. Here is a partial (I hope mostly complete) list of Californians who participated. Bear in mind, the state has a large number of players who are established in the American Hockey League and those guys usually don’t attend prospects camps these days.

Western Conference

Ducks – F Nic Kerdiles, D Scott Savage, F Chase Souto and F Brian Williams

Comment: I watched one of their scrimmages and was thoroughly impressed with Kerdiles’ play (2 goals, 1 assist, involved in every facet) as well as that of Savage (who attended as an undrafted invitee). Kerdiles (2nd round, 2012) left Wisconsin after his sophomore season to sign with the Ducks and fared well in an AHL cameo at season’s end. Savage was a BC teammate of Demko’s and was the Eagles’ second-highest-scoring blue liner as a true freshman. He made plays and was a physical presence. Williams flashed elite skating and hands, and given his smaller stature (5-8, 175) was also engaged physically, particularly in the offensive zone. Williams scored 36 goals in the WHL, and someone has to give him a chance in the pros. I did not see Souto play unfortunately.

Sharks – F Matt Nieto, Savage

Comment: Interesting that San Jose would have Nieto, who had 24 points and played 66 games in the NHL, at summer camp, but he has only played 20 games total in the minors so perhaps they thought more experience was necessary. … And yes, Savage attended TWO prospects camps, something that is not unusual for college free agents.

Kings – F Patrick Newell

Comment: Nice move by the champs to invite a former Jr. King to prospects camp. Newell is a St. Cloud State commit who scored 43 points in 59 games for Clark Cup champion Indiana of the USHL.

Chicago – F Fredrik Olofsson, F Nolan Stevens

Comment: The Blackhawks picked Olofsson, who skated as a Mite and Squirt for the Santa Clara Blackhawks, one pick before the Jets took De Leo in the fourth round (98th overall). Stevens is a former Jr. King who has committed to Northeastern.

Minnesota – D Gustav Oloffson

Comment: Fredrik’s older brother, a 2013 second-round pick, signed with the Wild after one season at Colorado College.

Vancouver – Demko (see above)

Winnipeg – De Leo, G Eric Comrie

Comment: Comrie (2nd/2013) came back strong from hip surgery during the 2012-13 season to go 26-25-9 with a 2.57 GAA and .925 save percentage for Tri-City of the WHL. He and De Leo are close friends and former LA Selects teammates.

Eastern Conference

Detroit – F Mitch Callahan

Comment: The needle is pointing way up for the 2009 sixth-round pick. He made his NHL debut this past season and played a well-rounded game for Grand Rapids of the AHL, scoring 26 goals among his 44 points. His coach told me a few months back he trusts him in every situation.

Florida – F Rocco Grimaldi

Comment: Derailed by a knee injury his freshman season at North Dakota, Grimaldi was stellar the past two seasons, scoring 36 and 39 points. The highest drafted of any of these prospects (33rd overall in 2011), Grimaldi joins a rebuilding franchise that is intent on working in its prospects.

N.Y. Islanders – G Blake Weyrick

Comment: Surprisingly not selected in the entry draft despite being ranked as high as third by NHL Central Scouting (mid-term). Like Nieto, Grimaldi, Kerdiles, Demko and Stevens, he came up through the USNTDP program. He de-committed from Brown and could play for Tri-City of the USHL, which holds his rights.

Philadelphia – G Merrick Madsen

Comment: Like Demko and Weyrick, Madsen is another tall (6-4) goalie. He spent this past season with Minot of NAHL and has committed to Harvard. The guess here is Philly will let him take his time to develop.

Tampa Bay – F Adam Erne

Comment: A 2013 second-rounder, the former LA Select got a taste of the AHL with Syracuse after scoring 62 points in 48 games with Quebec of the QMJHL. He is part of a large stable of talented forwards in the Lightning organization.

Washington – D Garrett Haar

Comment: A 2011 seventh-round pick, Haar played this past season with De Leo on Portland and had 45 points in 61 games after spending two seasons at Western Michigan. Let the pro apprenticeship begin.

One notable prospect who did not attend a camp, and it’s likely due to his contract status is forward Chase Balisy, who completed his eligibility at Western Michigan but apparently had not signed with Nashville, which drafted him in the sixth round in 2011. He could become an unrestricted free agent in August through a loophole Ducks fans (Justin Schultz) are painfully familiar with.