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
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.
Just another routine day for hockey in California …
Many people believe Friday the 13th is somehow hexed, but you’d have a hard time convincing fans of hockey in the state of that. Two huge pieces of news broke today about prospects from the state to go with another newsworthy note from a few days ago.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Beau Bennett, who to this point is the highest-drafted California-born and -trained hockey player (20th overall in 2010). Bennett just finished his sophomore season at Denver University. His campaign was shortened by what turned out to be season-ending wrist surgery in December. His contract takes effect beginning next season (and hopefully there will be a next season given the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players expires this summer). He is a former LA Jr. Kings and LA Selects players.
- Anaheim Ducks prospect Emerson Etem, who was drafted nine spots behind Bennett in the 2010 Entry Draft at Staples Center, will make his AHL debut tonight for the Syracuse Crunch. Etem absolutely tore up the Western Hockey League this season, scoring a league-best 61 goals among his 107 points. Etem was a former Selects teammate of Bennett’s and also played for the Long Beach Jr. Ice Dogs.
- And Ryan Lasch, who set St. Cloud State’s career scoring record two seasons ago before heading off to Europe to play professionally, was the only non-NHL player selected to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Championships. Lasch, who played for the SouthCoast Sabres, Westminster Wave and Long Beach Jr. Ice Dogs, had 62 points in 59 games in Finland’s top pro league this past season. It’s fair to ask if this might open doors for him to eventually play in the NHL given his strong track record of offensive production. … One of Lasch’s teammates on Team USA will be Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, who played for the Jr. Kings for a few seasons in the early 2000s.
And if that weren’t enough, the LA Kings try to take two in a row from the “beloved” Canucks in Vancouver tonight.
I have a pile of California minor hockey news and stories to post, and I hope to do so in the next few days. But first I wanted to provide an update on the hockey book.
As some of you might be aware, for the past four years I’ve been researching and now writing a book about the history of hockey in California. During this process I’m continually learning more from the people I speak to, and so the direction of the book has changed from initially being one that solely examined the game’s growth here, to one that does that but points to key events, teams and people who were part of its emergence and growth along the way.
So while history is part of it, and there are nods to many of the state’s pro teams, it really focuses on how these events added more kindling to the “hockey fire”.
I’ve spoken to roughly 400 people associated with the game’s history from the late 1930s until now, and the words of many of them will appear in the book. Their stories — to me — are priceless.
At this point I’ve written or nearly written approximately 18 chapters. I hope to complete another 12-15 in the next 3-4 months. At that time, I’ll evaluate what I have (again) and submit it to an editor. As of yet, I do not have a publisher for it, but if it needs to be self-published, I’m preparing to do that.
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs commercial asks, “Is this the year?”
Happy New Year, and keep your head up and stick on the ice.
Two players who played their youth hockey in California, and a third who was born in the state were selected on Day 2 of the NHL Entry Draft on Saturday. I write about all three at Calirubber.com
A few personal notes about each that you won’t read about there.
As impressive as defenseman Kyle Bigos‘ size is (6-5, 230 pounds), his commitment to improve his skating in recent years has really put him over the top with scouts. He was dominant in the RBC Cup this spring, and he played at a consistently high level in all three zones this past season, his second in the BCHL.He also led the Vernon Vipers’ blueliners in scoring.
Bigos (Upland) is an example of why persistence pays off in hockey. He was picked as a 20-year-old in a draft that can pick players as young as 18. And aside from one summer before he left to play in Saskatchewan, he didn’t play at the AAA level in California.
Right wing Mitch Callahan of Whittier is another example of where hard work can get a player. He played just one season of AAA in California, and even more impressively, he made the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets as a walk-on. As if that wasn’t a rare enough feat, he was an impact player for a team that came within one victory of winning the Memorial Cup. Callahan didn’t sit out one game all season and he was one of the toughest players in the league despite weighing well south of 200 pounds. And he could score – he had 27 points, including 14 goals, in the regular season.
The third player, right wing Brandon Kozun, was born in Los Angeles and might have played some of his earliest hockey here. A former coach of his older brother confirms they were part of the West Valley Wolves program at one point in the late 1990s. Kozun has an invite to the Canadian World Junior camp, and he put up 108 points, including 40 goals, for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.
Several updates for you about Californians still in NHL camps as the exhibition season reaches its final weekend, and there is an interesting subplot as to why one player might have been sent to the AHL despite having a very good camp.
In Atlanta, left wing Brett Sterling is one of 17 forwards remaining in Thrashers camp. The Thrashers play back-to-back games this weekend to wrap up their preseason, and if Sterling demonstrates the scoring touch he did earlier in camp, when he had a two-goal game vs. the St. Louis Blues, he has a good chance to stick. …
In Toronto, forwards Robbie Earl and Ryan Hollweg are among 15 remaining forwards in Leafs camp. …As of this morning, it appears defenseman Garrett Stafford and forward Landon Wilson remain in Dallas’ camp. Stafford is one of 12 blue liners on the Stars’ roster while Wilson is one of 17 forwards. … Forward Ryan Murphy remains on New Jersey’s camp roster. …
The Thrashers’ opponent this weekend, Nashville, returned defenseman Jonathon Blum (Rancho Santa Margarita) to his junior team, the Vancouver Giants this week. Blum, the Giants’ captain, got in his first NHL exhibitions during camp. …
The Kings also sent center Gabe Gauthier (Buena Park) to Manchester of the AHL this week. There is a decent chance Gauthier could be the Monarch’s captain this season. … Colorado returned defenseman Raymond Macias (Long Beach) to Lake Erie of the AHL. …
And the Ducks’ sticky salary cap situation might have factored into why defenseman Brian Salcido was assigned to Iowa of the AHL on Monday, and why forward Bobby Ryan, who was expected to be a top-six forward in Anaheim this season, might join him. Check out this story from the Orange County Register.