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.

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Californians in the NHL and AHL in 08-09

The NHL and AHL seasons get in full swing later this week, and here is a list of players either born, trained or some combination thereof in the top two North American pro leagues.

NHL:

Atlanta – Left wing Brett Sterling made the club out of camp for the second season in a row.

Detroit – Defenseman Chris Chelios is back at age 46, but he’ll start the season on the injured list with a broken shin bone.

New York Islanders – Right wing Richard Park is in his second decade in the league with no signs of slowing down.

Toronto – Forward Ryan Hollweg has a new address this season after his trade from the New York Rangers.

The AHL ranks have expanded a bit from a year ago, but it would not surprise me in the least to see several of these players getting games in the NHL.

Grand Rapids – Defenseman Garrett Stafford is back even though he’s in Dallas’ organization instead of Detroit’s. The Wings are the primary affiliate of the Griffins. Stafford played his first NHL game last season for Detroit. He could get some more games if the Stars’ blue line experiences another run of injuries.

Grand Rapids – Forward Landon Wilson has several years of NHL experience and while he’ll bring experience to the Griffins, he can step in and help the Stars should injuries strike.

Iowa – Wing Bobby Ryan is in the AHL because of the Anaheim Ducks’ cap crunch, which is too bad after he had an outstanding camp.

Iowa – Defenseman Brian Salcido has a shot at getting his first NHL game this season. The Ducks’ carousel of veteran defenseman has the rapidly improving puck-mover in the minors … for now.

Lake Erie – Defenseman Raymond Macias is a likely fixture on the Monsters’ blue line after a good camp in Colorado.

Lowell – Forward Ryan Murphy is back with the Devils’ top farm team after going to camp in New Jersey.

Manchester – Forward Gabe Gauthier will be one of the Monarchs’ centerpieces this season, and given the parent club LA Kings’ youth movement, it would not be a surprise to see him get another NHL look at some point.

Springfield – Right wing Hans Benson spend has worked his way up to the AHL after stints in the CHL and ECHL. The Menlo Park-native brings plenty of toughness to the Falcons lineup and he played some preseason games for the Edmonton Oilers this year.

Toronto – Forward Robbie Earl was one of the Maple Leafs’ final roster cuts, and it’s a good bet he’ll be back up with the parent club this season, particularly if his defensive game rounds into form. Defense is a prerequisite to playing for new Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

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You can find my weekly report on California Alumni in hockey each Tuesday at www.calirubber.com

Training camp winds down

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.

California’s NHL prospects

Several players with California ties remain in NHL training camps:

Anaheim Ducks – Defenseman Brian Salcido and winger Bobby Ryan

Atlanta – Winger Brett Sterling

Colorado – Defenseman Raymond Macias

Dallas – Forward Landon Wilson and defenseman Garrett Stafford

Detroit – Defenseman Chris Chelios

LA Kings – Center Gabe Gautheir

Nashville – Defenseman Jonathon Blum

New Jersey – Forward Ryan Murphy

NY Islanders – Right wing Richard Park

Toronto – Forwards Ryan Hollweg and Robbie Earl

Notable: Earl scored a goal in Toronto’s 7-4 victory over Buffalo on Monday night. … Gauthier played in the Kings’ 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Monday night. It was the first NHL game held in the new Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. … Detroit returned defenseman Cameron Cepek (Huntington Beach) to Prince George of the Western Hockey League. Cepek, a 2006 Montreal draft choice, had been in Red Wings camp as a free agent.

Camp’s around the corner

Most, if not all, of California’s junior prospects have headed back to camp and several of the college players are headed out of town, too, for another season.

Need a hockey fix? Check out the Midget tournament in San Jose this weekend. Most of the state’s top programs will be at Sharks Ice.

And the pros aren’t far behind, given the arrival of the Hockey News annual in my mailbox recently.

One notable feature is the inclusion of the top 10 prospects for each team. I thought it would be fun to see how many Californians are included in that.

Anaheim (2) – 1. RW Bobby Ryan; 3. D Brian Salcido

Atlanta (1) – 6. LW Brett Sterling

Calgary (1) – 4. C Mitch Wahl

Nashville (1) – 3. D Jonathon Blum

NY Islanders (1) – 10. RW Rhett Rakhshani

Toronto (1) – 5. F Robbie Earl

Others in teams’ systems and/or recent draft choices: Colorado’s Ray Macias, New Jersey’s Ryan Murphy, Dallas’ Garrett Stafford, Detroit’s Max Nicastro, Los Angeles’ Gabe Gauthier, Montreal’s Cameron Cepak, New Jersey’s Corbin McPherson and TJ Miller, Phoenix’s Colin Long