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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Many California hockey alumni updates

My Alumni Report on http://www.calirubber.com this week spotlights several college and junior players from the state who are rising up the scoring charts in their respective leagues.

Chief among them are Ryan Lasch, Rhett Rakhshani, Chris Margott, Casey Wellman, Laura Veharanta and Kristi Kehoe in the NCAA; and NAHLers such as Austin Block and Bryon Paulazzo and USHLers such as Brandon Richardson and Matt Leitner.

I also take a closer look at just how much of an impact Californians are making in the WHL (huge). Not only are players such as Colin Long, CJ Stretch, Cameron Cepek and Jonathon Blum contributing points, but those for in particular are captains or assistant captains for their teams. And they are far from the only ones making waves in Canada, others include Mitch Wahl, Shane Harper and Tyler Maxwell.

You can read the Alumni Report here or hop over to http://www.calirubber.come

Blum, Wahl make Team USA

Congratulations to Vancouver Giants defenseman Jonathon Blum and Spokane Chiefs center Mitch Wahl on making the 2009 U.S. World Junior team.

Both Southern Californians are again having standout seasons in the Western Hockey. Blum leads all defensemen in scoring, and Wahl is scoring more than a point per game, and their teams are winning way more than they’re losing.

An interesting common thread, both players are considered leaders (Blum is the Giants’ captain and Wahl is an assistant on Spokane), and both helped their teams win Memorial Cups during their tenures there. Winning and leadership, almost as much as ability, were ingredients USA Hockey was looking to stock this team with. This will be especially important because the WJC is being held in Ottawa starting Dec. 26, and the spotlight will be intense.

To read more about Blum, Wahl and Team USA, check back here and on http://www.calirubber.com

California hockey alumni report

My latest alumni report on California hockey players is posted on http://www.calirubber.com

Click here to go right to the story.

Among the highlights:

California players – particularly Vancouver defenseman Jonathon Blum and Kelowna center Colin Long – continue to dominate in the WHL. And those two and others, such as Spokane’s Mitch Wahl, Kamloops’ CJ Stretch and Everett’s Shane Harper, have some company. Rookie Tyler Maxwell is scoring at almost a point-per-game clip.

Bobby Ryan’s return to the NHL has been very solid, and read how Richard Park helped sink the Canadiens.

Matt Ford got his first AHL goal last week.

All this and more … in one place!

Flames return Wahl to Spokane

The Calgary Flames announced this week that they returned center Mitch Wahl (Seal Beach), their second-round pick in  June’s entry draft, to his junior team, Spokane of the Western Hockey League.

Wahl, who helped the Chiefs win the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup last season, attended the Flames’ rookie and prospects camp before returning to Spokane.

To view an interview with Wahl during the Flames’ summer Development Camp, click here.

California prospects on TVs and computers

Wanting to catch up to some of California’s more recent NHL Entry Draft picks? Through NHL Network and the Internet, you can.

Center Mitch Wahl (Seal Beach) is playing for the Calgary Flames in their Western Canadian tournament with Edmonton and Vancouver. Go to the Flames Web site to find a link to watch. Wahl, who helped lead Spokane of the WHL to the Memorial Cup in June, was drafted in the second round by the Flames.

Center Colin Long (Santa Ana) is playing with the Phoenix Coyotes’ prospects in games against the Los Angeles Kings’ prospects on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Go to either team’s Web site to watch the action. Long, the WHL’s second-leading scorer a season ago for Kelowna, was a fourth-round pick, 99th overall ironically, who is playing for No. 99 himself in training camp.

Defenseman Cameron Cepek (Huntington Beach) is playing for the Detroit Red Wings in the Traverse City, Michigan Tournament, which NHL Network is re-airing at various times. Cepek, who was a Montreal Canadiens pick in 2006, is attending the Wings’ training camp as a free agent. Should he return to the WHL, he will be in Prince George this season.

Numerous other Californians will be in NHL camps. More on that as they open later this week.

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