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

 

 

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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!

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.

What about Californians in college hockey?

We like college hockey – a lot actually – here. Covering the college and junior A versions of hockey is where I got my start.

Here is a conference-by-conference capsule look at some — but by no means all — the projected impact players from California in the NCAA Division I game. This was to accompany a November story in California Rubber Hockey Magazine about the large group of Californians at Western Michigan University this season.

Atlantic Hockey – RIT Sr. G Shane Madolora was a second-team All-American last season, when he went 17-3-7 with a 1.93 goals-against and DI-best .935 save percentage. …  Sr. F Nielsson Arcibal (Vista) is American International’s captain and was fourth in scoring on the team a season ago. … Jr. F Kyle De Laurell (Mission Viejo) was third in scoring for Air Force last season and leads the Falcons early this campaign.

CCHA – So. F Brett Mohler (Yorba Linda) was second on Bowling Green in scoring as a freshman. … So. C Chase Balisy (Rancho Santa Margarita) is Western Michigan’s top scorer, while three D from the state – Jr. Matt Tennyson (Pleasanton), So. Dennis Brown (Cypress) and Fr. Garrett Haar (Huntington Beach)– anchor the blue line.

ECAC – Sr. D Corbin McPherson (Folsom) is one of Colgate’s captains this season.

Hockey East – So. F Matt Nieto (Long Beach) is one of Boston University’s top scorers, while Jr. D Max Nicastro (Thousand Oaks) is one its top blue liners. … Jr. F Dalton Speelman (San Jose) is counted on for scoring by New Hampshire. … So. D Kyle Bigos (Upland) – one of the biggest players in the league at 6-5, 235 – is a shutdown defenseman for Merrimack.

WCHA – Denver So. F Jason Zucker (former LA Select) was selected the league’s preseason player of the year, while North Dakota Fr. F Rocco Grimaldi (Rossmoor) was projected to be the conference’s rookie of the year. … So. F Beau Bennett (Gardena) was among top scorers in ’10-11. … So. F Matt White (Whittier) led Nebraska-Omaha freshman in scoring last season. … Jr. D Joe Marciano (Alta Loma) was voted Colorado College’s most improved player last season.

A few notes … Grimaldi is near a return after sustaining a knee injury early in the fall. … Bennett underwent wrist surgery this past week, and he is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. However, a couple of those will be during the Christmas break, so his games lost won’t be what they could be. … Zucker will represent Team USA at the World Jr. Championships for the third consecutive year. Emerson Etem (Long Beach) will join him for the second year in a row.

Nine California prospects on THN’s radar

The Hockey News’ annual Future Watch issue (which features Kings prospect Brayden Schenn on the cover this year) is a must-read for those wondering what their team’s future looks like.

I also enjoy scouting it for Californians viewed as up-and-coming players by the magazine’s panel of experts. Each of the 30 teams’ top 10 prospects are profiled, but the real selling point is who are the top 50 overall prospects.

There are nine players with ties to California listed among the 300 (1o for each of the 30 teams) in the publication, and one — Beau Bennett, a 2010 first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins — in the top 50. I have not gone back and compared how those number stack up to years past, but it would make for an interesting study.

Bennett, who just finished a strong freshman season at Denver University, was ranked No. 46 overall and the Penguins’ top prospect. Fellow 2010 first-round pick Emerson Etem was rated No. 57 overall and was slotted as the Anaheim Ducks’ second-best prospect.

Other prospects “ranked” by their respective teams included:

Calgary Flames — C Mitch Wahl was No. 8. Wahl struggled through an injury-plagued season, but with the Flames up against the salary cap and needing an infusion of youth, the former California Wave and LA Jr. Kings prospect should go into camp with some sort of shot at a roster spot next fall.

Colorado Avalanche — C Mark Olver was No. 8. A one-time Wave player, Olver had 40 points as a rookie in the AHL and also scored during a brief call-up to the Avs.

Nashville Predators — D Jonathon Blum was No. 2 (I did not count him in the overall totals because he is in the NHL to stay at this point).

New York Islanders — RW Rhett Rakhshani was No. 5. He tied for the rookie scoring lead in the AHL with 62 points, had four points in the AHL All-Star Game and made a two-game NHL appearance.

Minnesota Wild — C Casey Wellman was No. 4 and LW Jason Zucker was No. 6. Wellman also battled injuries but posted 35 points in 42 AHL games and played in 15 games for the Wild. He’s considered a strong bet to stick in Minnesota next season. Zucker might have been Denver University’s best player as a freshman, posting 45 points in 40 games, and he again shone at World Juniors.

Phoenix Coyotes — LW Viktor Tikhonov was No. 5. The former San Jose Jr. Shark seemed to find his game in the AHL this season, getting 33 points in 60 games. The Coyotes have said they rushed him to the NHL after being a first-round pick in 2008.

I’ll take a look at other players from California whose rights are owned by NHL teams in the next post.

A closing note: inclusion is no guarantee of anything. And the turnover of prospects is quite high year-to-year. Just a few years ago, one would have seen Brett Sterling, Brian Salcido and Gabe Gauthier among the Thrashers’, Ducks’ and Kings’ top prospects. Sterling signed with the Penguins last summer and has played some in Pittsburgh, Salcido played in Europe this past season and Gauthier suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and only played a few few ECHL and AHL games.

2010 Draft Prospects from California

This is from research I did for a story that appeared in the May issue of California Rubber Hockey Magazine.

The Bible of hockey has spoken, and it spoke favorably of California’s prospects for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Three players with ties to the state are among the top 54 prospects in The Hockey News’ annual Draft Preview issue, which hit newstands and mailboxes this past week.

The three are forwards Emerson Etem (Long Beach), Beau Bennett (Gardena) and Jason Zucker (LA Selects).

Etem is the publication’s 17th-ranked prospect, Bennett its 35th and Zucker its 54th.

Etem was the eighth ranked North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Service in its final rankings after leading all Western Hockey League rookies with 37 goals (and 65 points) in 72 games for Medicine Hat. The 6-foot, 194-pound right wing played with LA Hockey’s ’92 birth year teams as well as the Jr. Ice Dogs.

Bennett led the BCHL in scoring as a rookie with 120 points (41 goals, 79 assists) in 56 games for Penticton. He was ranked 32nd by CSS. The 6-1, 180-pounder played for the Selects and the LA Jr. Kings.

Zucker was ranked 51st by CSS after helping Team USA win the World Jr. Championship. He spent the past two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program. The 5-10, 175-pound is from Las Vegas, but spent a couple of seasons playing for LA Hockey.

Here is a look at some other draft-eligible prospects from California:

C Jake Fallon (former LAHC player), Indiana of USHL
CSS Rank: 68
Key stats: The 5-10, 180-pounder split time between USNTDP U-18 team and Indiana this season

D Taylor Aronson (Placentia), Portland of the WHL
CSS Rank: 88
Key stats: The 6-1, 197-pounder had 31 points in 71 games to go with a plus-13 after a minor career with the Jr. Kings, California Wave, California Stars and Ontario Senators

D Brandon Underwood (San Marcos), Kamloops of WHL
CSS Rank: 196
Key stats: The 6-3, 210-pound former LA Jr. King and California Wave player had five points, but 128 PIMs

Others to watch
G Adam Brown (Yorba Linda), Kelowna of the WHL
Key stats: The 5-10, 165-pound stopper put together a 31-18-1-4 record with a .905 save percentage in his first full season as a starter. His six shutouts were third in the WHL, as were his 59 games played, and his 31 wins were sixth most.

F Cory Kane (Irvine), Vernon of BCHL
Key stats: The 6-3, 190-pounder had a career-high 55 points (22-33) in 60 games … has committed to Ferris State

D Matthew Konan (Tustin), Medicine Hat of WHL
Key stats: The 6-3, 182-pound blueliner had a career-high 20 points (5-15) and an impressive plus-24

C Tyler Maxwell (Manhattan Beach), Everett of WHL
Key stats: The 5-9, 179-pounder broke out with 69 points (33-36) in 72 games in his second WHL season

F Shane Sooth (Canyon Country), Texas of the NAHL
Key Stats: The 6-foot, 187-pounder finished the season with 8 points (2-6) in 12 NAHL games.