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!

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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.

Zucker, Tennyson leave college early to sign NHL deals

Just days after their respective college teams were eliminated from the NCAA hockey tournament, two players with California ties have signed their first NHL contracts.

Forward Jason Zucker, a 2010 second-round draft pick of Minnesota’s, signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Wild and is scheduled to make his NHL debut Thursday night, according to the Star Tribune.

Zucker is a former LA Selects player who has spent two seasons at Denver University, where he was the WCHA’s freshman of the year in 2010-11. Prior to that — and after playing for the Selects — he spent two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Meanwhile, defenseman Matt Tennyson (Pleasanton) reportedly has signed with the San Jose Sharks, foregoing his final season of eligibility at Western Michigan University.

Tennyson, who played youth hockey for the San Jose Jr. Sharks, had 11 goals and 13 assists this past season for the Broncos. The goals were third most on WMU, which won the CCHA tournament. He was a second-team all-CCHA selection.

Zucker, who was captain of Team USA in this past winter’s World Junior Championship, had 22 points and 24 assists for 46 points this season for the Pioneers, who reached the WCHA final in addition the NCAA tournament. He was a second-team all-WCHA pick for the second consecutive season.

Congratulations to both as they take this next step in their hockey careers.

 

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.