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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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

California’s Cup similarities

Should the LA Kings win the Stanley Cup tonight they would complete a historically dominant playoff run. Their 16-2 record would tie the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the best playoff mark since the league shifted to four seven-game series.

As I pondered this in light of  the book this morning a few things stood out to me.

That amazing Oilers team, and the city of Edmonton, province of Alberta and even nation of Canada never were the same two months later … when Wayne Gretzky and Marty McSorley were traded to the Kings. For that matter, neither was hockey in Los Angeles or California.

Even if the Kings don’t win tonight — and they’ve dropped two of three Game 4s while holding 3-0 series leads thus far in the playoffs — the odds are stacked in their favor to win the Cup.

I also wondered how this Kings team stacks up against one of the more dominant Cup winners in recent times — their neighbors to the south, the Anaheim Ducks, whose birth was a byproduct of Gretzky’s change of address and the Kings’ run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs record was 16-5. The did not sweep a series (as the King have twice), and they faced a much tougher foe in the Western Conference finals, the Detroit Red Wings, whom they knocked off 4-2. The Wings went on to win the Cup the next season and returned to the Final in 2009 only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Anaheim was very dominant during the 2006-07 regular season, amassing a league-best 110 points, while the Kings made it as an eighth seed. Anaheim had 48 wins, and with 14 overtime or shootout losses, the Ducks came very close to cracking the vaunted 50-win barrier. Those Ducks were a balanced bunch, with eight players scoring 44 or more points, including current King Dustin Penner with 45. Scoring was the Kings’ Achilles’ heel this season as only four players had 44 or more points during the regular season, Penner with just 18.

Penner, the connection between the two teams, added eight more points (including three goals) in the 2007 playoffs. He has surpassed that already in fewer games this spring with 11 points, including three goals.

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This is a good time to mention a quintet of men associated with the Kings who have been immensely helpful in my efforts to research the book during the past four years — broadcasters Bob Miller, Jim Fox and Darryl Evans, as well as media relations personnel Jeff Moeller and Mike Kalinowski. All are dedicated to the Kings and to the sport and don’t get the recognition they deserve.

 

Kings’ Cup run paralells ’03 Ducks run

If the Los Angeles Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals this season seems familiar to you, it should.

It is strangely similar to that of the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. And while that comparison might make Kings fans cough up their Corn Flakes, there are several compelling reasons to draw this conclusion.

The 2003 Ducks rode the unreal goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a 12-2 record through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The 2012 Kings have gotten stellar play in net from Jonathan Quick en route to a 12-2 record through three rounds.

The Ducks, the sixth seed that season, vanquished the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in four games in the first round. The Kings, the eighth seed, knocked off the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks in the first round (before taking seeds 2 and 3 in the West).

Both teams made key acquisitions before and during their respective seasons.

The Ducks signed Adam Oates and traded for Petr Sykora, two forwards who boosted the club’s offense. Anaheim then added defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and forwards Steve Thomas and Rob Niedermayer at the trade deadline. All were huge contributors to the Ducks reaching the postseason and then rolling through it.

The Kings traded two elite young forwards to obtain center Mike Richards this past summer. Then at the deadline, they shipped defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus to obtain Richards’ former Flyers running mate Jeff Carter.

Then there is the opponent in the Finals — the New Jersey Devils. Only Patrick Elias and goaltender Martin Brodeur remain from the 2003 Finals team.

Let’s hope history does not repeat itself because after a long layoff between rounds, the Ducks lost to the Devils in seven games.

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The Devils feature several familiar faces to California hockey fans, starting with their assistant coaches — Larry Robinson and Adam Oates. Robinson finished his Hall of Fame playing career with the Kings and later coached them to their only playoff appearance between the 1993 Cup Finals and 2001. Oates was a key member of that first Ducks Finals team.

Four players on the Devils have played for California NHL franchises, including the aforementioned Sykora (who returned to the NHL after playing in Europe) and former Duck Ryan Carter, as well as former King Peter Harrold and former Shark Steve Bernier.

Hockey season is back …

And I’ve decided to keep this blog going.

I had considered posting everything at palmtreesandfrozenponds.com, but I’ll keep that for the hockey book.

After a season on the fringe, I’m back covering grass-roots hockey in California, and I’d like to share a few items that I’ve already submitted for October’s issue of California Rubber Hockey Magazine.

There are a lot of Californians in NHL camps as I type, including a handful who never were drafted but are trying to make the leap from either college or juniors this season.

Three have caught my attention: forward Jon Parker, forward Kyle MacKinnon and defenseman Kevan Miller.

Remarkably, Parker slipped under a lot of teams’ radar, but not the Buffalo Sabres, who invited him to camp then watched him score four points in four games in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Parker piled up the points in his third season of the WHL, tying for fifth in goals (45, with Long Beach’s Emerson Etem) and tying for 13th in points (86, to lead all players from the state).

The Solana Beach native came up through the La Jolla Jaguars, San Diego Gulls and LA Selects, where he spent three seasons being coached by Jeff Turcotte.

MacKinnon (Walnut) is one of the rare players who could finish college and play pro hockey without needing to fill out a change of address card. He was a co-captain at Providence University before signing with the Providence Bruins and scoring three points in the AHL Bruins’ final five games. Primarily a center, he scored 71 points during his college career.

Both MacKinnon and Miller are in the Boston Bruins’ main camp.

Miller, whom I’ve written about in the past, was a captain at the University of Vermont the past two seasons, and he established a reputation as a tough, reliable defender. He didn’t miss a game in his college career until his senior season, and like MacKinnon, he played a few games in Providence at the end of the season.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Californians at NHL prospects camps

Several recent NHL draftees from California have been attending prospects camps during the past week, and several were noted on various team sites.

On the New York Islanders’ site, forward Rhett Rakhshani of Huntington Beach is mic-ed up for some of the scrimmage video highlights (Day 3). If one looks carefully, you can spot the Denver University product behind John Tavares on the camp opening page. Rakhshani, incidentally, has been selected DU’s captain for the upcoming season.

Forward Colin Long of Santa Ana is quoted several times throughout coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes’ camp on the team’s web site. Long served as captain for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League this past season, and the Rockets came within one game of winning the Memorial Cup.

The Edmonton Oilers have a nice video interview with defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland on their prospects camp coverage. Bigos addresses a variety of topics, including winning the RBC Cup and his college choice of Merrimack.

And the Detroit Red Wings have a nice feature on forward Mitch Callahan on their site. Callahan went from being a walk-on player at Kelowna’s camp to a sixth-round draft choice in one year!

A secret about Chris Pronger

I wanted to let you in on a little secret about one of the NHL’s biggest, and some would say meanest, players – former Anaheim Ducks and current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger.

Pronger is a really nice individual. He’s also a very smart one.

Those statements are bound to gall fans of the Kings, Sharks and especially the Oilers, but I believe it’s true. People who follow the Ducks on a daily basis have told me this year after year. And I experienced it myself when I interviewed him for the book.

It’s difficult to find hockey players, even pros, who won’t make a few minutes to talk when I tell them the subject of Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds – the game’s history in California. Most politely answer questions, and a few will expand ideas.

Pronger was different. After our introduction (and after he put down the Wall Street Journal he had been reading), he asked me questions about the project. Once he had a grasp of it, he offered stories – including a fun one about his first visit to Anaheim before the 1993 draft.

Another thing stood out – his sense of humor. He is a really funny guy.

It’s no surprise to me that he wears a letter wherever he plays. Leadership is a lot about enfolding people, welcoming them and helping them succeed, as well as the occasional kick in the pants (which I, thankfully, didn’t get).

In my book, Pronger is very good at all of those things. Anaheim’s loss certainly is Philly’s gain.