Kerdiles, Haar survive US WJC cuts

Forward Nic Kerdiles and defenseman Garrett Haar survived the first round of cuts Tuesday at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The former LA Selects were among four players with ties to California originally invited to the 45-man camp. Forward Adam Reid, also a former Select, was among Tuesday’s cuts, and forward Rocco Grimaldi, who played for the California Wave, did not attend the camp while he rehabs a knee injury.

Kerdiles (’94) was a second-round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in June’s NHL Entry Draft. The leading scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U18 squad last season, he will begin his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.

Haar (’93) emerged as a force on the blue line for Western Michigan University last season after being a seventh-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Reid (’93) is entering his second season at Northeastern University, while Grimaldi (’93) — a second-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft — will be a redshirt freshman at North Dakota after injuries limited his true freshman season to four games.

 

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Taking a closer look at California draft prospect Nic Kerdiles

When Nic Kerdiles was the final pick for California’s 2004 The Brick Invitational Tournament team the selection had a lot to do with his size and potential.

When an NHL club calls his name, most likely during the first or second round, at next month’s Entry Draft in Pittsburgh those will remain two appealing attributes, but the club will get a much more refined version of the young man who was exclusively a roller hockey player until 2003.

“Nic has developed about as far as anyone could,” said Louis Pacella, his coach for six seasons with LA Hockey Club/LA Selects. “When he started it was always about what he could be, not what he was.”

Fast forward to the present and the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Kerdiles (Irvine) progressed to the point where he led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).

Kerdiles, who was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden.

Team USA dominated the field, outscoring foes 27-4 despite having fellow draft prospect Stefan Matteau ruled ineligible because he had not played hockey for two consecutive full years in the United States.

“He’s obviously a good player,” Kerdiles said. “I knew I needed to produce and play well, better than I have all year.”

Kerdiles, who comes from an extremely close family, had additional motivation at Worlds. He played with a heavy heart after the recent passing of his paternal grandfather, who was scheduled to join Nic’s parents, one of his older sisters, an aunt and a cousin in the Czech Republic.

“That was a big part of why I played so well – I had him looking over me at the World Championships,” he said. “My grandpa had done so much for me. I wished he could have seen me, but our entire family has grown even closer.”

And Kerdiles redirects credit to his parents, Michel and Nathalie, as quickly as he would a point shot headed toward an opponent’s net.

“They have great work ethics and they have sacrificed so much for me,” Nic said. “That’s where I get it from. This is a way I can thank them for all they’ve done.”

What they and his sisters, Marine and Mailys, have done is instill a team-first attitude, Pacella said.

“All of them sacrificed to help him; he has a great support system at home,” Pacella said. “They are very loyal to their son.

“It’s not easy being a Tier 1 hockey player in Southern California, but they just supported Nic so he could develop physically. He didn’t spend a lot of time in private lessons. He spent more time working in the weight room and practicing.”

Whether his strong finish to the season and his labor to get stronger impact his placement in the draft remains to be seen, Kerdiles decided early on that giving himself a chance to play hockey at the highest levels was his goal.

“I’ve thought about it ever since I started playing,” he said. “My Pee Wee AAA year I started to play a bigger role and we had a real good season. By my Bantam AAA year a lot of good things (including interest from the USNTDP and major colleges) started happening.”

Watching the NHL Entry Draft in person at Staples Center and seeing good friend Emerson Etem selected in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks only steeled Kerdiles’ resolve further.

“That’s when I said, ‘Wow, this is pretty special,’” Kerdiles said. “That pushed me to work harder.”

And that has caught scouts’ attention.

“The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger,” said an NHL amateur scout. “He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.

“He has the ability to slow things down and shield the puck while he makes his reads. And he doesn’t quit after he moves.”

That Kerdiles’ game has a mature feel to it shouldn’t come as a surprise, Pacella said.

“I used to kid him that he was 14 going on 40. It’s a credit to his parents,” the coach said. “He never got involved with crap that other teen-agers did. He didn’t have to be Mr. Popular in the locker room because he was very focused.”

Now rewind eight years and it’s not hard to see why Kerdiles was an appealing choice for the Brick team.

“One thing that stood out was how hard he worked,” Pacella said. “He was always smiling on the ice, having fun. He made it to the point we couldn’t not take him.”

Come this weekend in Pittsburgh an NHL club no doubt will feel the same way.

Bennett signs, Etem to AHL, Lasch to Team USA

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.

NHL.com takes a look at Nic Kerdiles and Stefan Matteau

NHL.com recently profiled one-time San Jose Jr. Shark Stefan Matteau and former LA Select Nic Kerdiles in an entry draft preview focusing on the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Both are projected as first-round picks in June’s draft in Pittsburgh, according to the mid-term rankings by NHL Central Scouting.

Matteau, who played for the Jr. Sharks as a Mite while his dad was skating for the NHL Sharks, describes himself as a power forward in the article and says his father has told him that the son is a better player than the father was.

Kerdiles is lauded for his all-around game in the article, particularly his skating ability, puck protection, d-zone coverage (he’s moved to center after spending last season on a wing) and his willingness and ability to score in the tough areas.

Kerdiles, incidentally, leads the U-18 program in scoring with 38 points, including 17 goals.

One interesting piece of trivia about the duo — both of their mothers are named Nathalie.

Two other prospects from California not cited in the article but widely viewed as mid-round draft choices are former LA Selects Miles Koules and Nik Olsson. I’ve written about both in California Rubber Magazine over the past two years. Both have demonstrated improvement this season, and Olsson has regained his health after a series of injuries all but wiped out his U-17 campaign.

Pacific District leftovers … Jr. Kings 16U edition

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Jr. Kings on winning the Midget 16U and 18U teams for winning Pacific District regional titles in El Segundo, and to the LA Selects for winning the Bantam and Pee Wee districts in Simi Valley.

Since I spent the better part of three days watching tournament play at the Toyota Sports Center, I’ll focus on the 16s and 18s in this and the next post post.The Jr. Kings’ two Midget AAA teams certainly took different paths to earning their banners.

The 16s, coached by Louis Pacella and Steven Cohen, rolled through their bracket, ultimately going 5-0 with a remarkable 25-3 goal differential. They featured the division’s top three scorers in Ryan Siroky (10 points), Taylor Maruya and Keanu Yamamoto (9 points apiece) and the top two goaltenders in Gavin Nieto and Tyler Caronia.

That doesn’t take into account forward Nolan Stevens, a ’96 who has been invited to the USNTDP’s final 40 camp, defenseman Riley Alferd, who has played in the USHL already, and forward Garrett Gamez, who turned down an opportunity to play in the USHL this season. And as impressive as the goaltending was, remember that top goalie Thatcher Demko has been in the USHL since late last fall and became the youngest player in the history of the top Jr. A league in the United States to pitch a shutout.

The 16s had a clear speed advantage in every game, particularly against a tired Alaska Wolves team in the final (the Wolves had gone four overtimes vs. the LA Selects the night before). Using that to their advantage was part of the plan, Yamamoto told me afterward.

“It’s something we talked about and we worked hard to exploit,” the winger said.

The Jr. Kings also excelled on special teams, and with the speed and top-end skill on the roster it’s not difficult to see why.

“Coach has a great system for special teams, and we have focused on that in practice,” said Maruya, who was the recipient of one of the classier moves I’ve observed after the game.

Maruya was the team’s only returning player from a season ago and his spent his hockey life in the Jr. Kings organization. When the captains were called up to receive the banner and trophy, captain Ryan Siroky and assistant Michael Damien insisted Maruya, also an assistant, go up alone to pick up the hardware (and software, as it were).

“It was a great experience for me,” Maruya said. “It meant a great deal to me to hold that banner.”

Pacella told me that the team dedicates a game to each player and that Sunday’s was dedicated to Maruya.

“He’s been loyal to this club when he could have jumped elsewhere many times,” the coach said. “I’m really happy for him.”

Pacella will be making his sixth consecutive trip to the USA Hockey Nationals, but his first with the Jr. Kings after five in a row with LA Hockey/LA Selects.

“This was incredibly special,” he said after the championship game. “This was a team we put together on the fly. We had one returning Jr. King. A lot of work went into finding the right players. There is no ego on this team and a great work ethic. They wanted to make Nationals the goal, and they accomplished it.”

Next up is Nationals, and this is a team that could do some damage there.

***

A few more personal observations on this team. I had seen some of these players before, notably Siroky, Alferd and Gamez. I knew Stevens was very good. Maruya and Yamamoto were eye-openers to me. Yamamoto’s speed, agility and stickhandling were extremely impressive, as was his ability to read the play. Maruya brought more speed and displayed plenty of finishing skill, but he also played with an edge. The defense core, headed by Alferd and Damien, was solid.

Maruya wasn’t the only longtime Jr. King rewarded with a trip to Nationals. Manager Terry Bain, who has been involved with the club for several years, will make her first trip as well.

Three Californians win gold with U.S. U-18 team

A trio of California-born hockey players helped Team USA win the gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in Crimmitschau, Germany, over the weekend.

Rocco Grimaldi (Rossmoor) had two goals and six assists in Team USA’s four preliminary games and two playoff games — a 5-4 semifinal victory over Canada in overtime on Saturday and a 4-3 overtime victory over Sweden in the gold-medal game.

Grimaldi played for the California Wave and was coached by Jack Bowkus.

Adam Reid (Chino Hills) added two goals. He is a former LA Selects player mainly coached by Igor Nikulin.

He and Grimaldi are ’93 birth years and are  NHL Entry Draft eligible in 2011 and both are projected to be taken in the first three rounds. Reid has committed to play college hockey at Northeastern, while Grimaldi signed with North Dakota.

Nic Kerdiles (Irvine) was playing up with the U18s after spending much of the season on the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team. He chipped in two assists.

He also is a former LA Selects player and was primarily coached by Louis Pacella. He is draft eligible in 2012 and has committed to Wisconsin.

The gold medal was the third in a row for Team USA, an unprecedented accomplishment for USA Hockey at the U18 level. Grimaldi was part of last year’s championship team.

It also bodes well for future U.S. World Junior Championship teams. Team USA has won consecutive medals in that prestigious event for the first time ever (gold in 2010, bronze in 2011).

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.