Opportunity knocks, Blum, Martinez and Sterling answer

I wondered if this might be the season that a bunch of players with ties to California youth hockey finally broke through into the NHL. There were more than a dozen such players in the American Hockey League at the start of the season, and lo and behold, several have received call-ups, and a trio have made the most of it.

Defenseman Jonathon Blum made his NHL debut for the Nashville Predators in late February and has been so good the Predators traded away another defense prospect to make room for him in the lineup.

Through Sunday, Blum had played in 10 consecutive games, got his first NHL goal and was a respectable plus-1 for a team vying for a Western Conference playoff spot. You can read much more about Blum in a profile I wrote about him for California Rubber Magazine.

Blum, who was the No. 2 scorer for the Milwaukee Admirals, was the first California-born and -trained hockey player to be drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft (in 2007). Rest assured, the former California Wave ’89 player’s compelling story is part of the hockey book, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds, that I continue to work on.

Another player who made the most of an opportunity, though he currently is back in the AHL, is forward  Brett Sterling. A prolific scorer at the collegiate and AHL levels (he was the A’s rookie of the year after a 97-point outburst in 2006-07), Sterling had five points — including three goals — in a seven-game call-up when the Penguins were decimated by injuries earlier this year. He played for the Pasadena Maple Leafs and the LA Jr. Kings before going into the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2000.

Those point totals exceeded Sterling’s output in 19 games with the Atlanta Thrashers over two seasons (07-08 and 08-09) and served notice to the NHL that his ability to score translates well on any level.

The third player, and the one who has demonstrated the most staying power is LA Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, who after a four-game audition last season, has played in 46 games and has 12 points (4 goals-8 assists). He consistently gets power-play time but he also boasts a plus-6 and at times has been paired with 2010 Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty.

Martinez played youth hockey in Northern California for three years — two seasons for the Santa Clara Blackhawks and another for the San Jose Jr. Sharks — before a job transfer brought his father back to the family’s Michigan home.

Three for the show … and more where they came from!

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Jonathon Blum makes his NHL preseason debut

Defenseman Jonathon Blum (Rancho Santa Margarita) made his NHL preseason debut for the Predators during Nashville’s 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.

Blum, who in 2007 was the first California-born and trained hockey player to be drafted in the first round of the NHL’s Entry Draft, did not figure in the scoring. He was a Western Hockey League All-Star last season for the Vancouver Giants, and he has been named Vancouver’s captain for the upcoming season.

Brett Sterling (Pasadena) had an assist on the Thrashers’ first goal. Sterling, who played 13 games for the Thrashers last season, was a key component in the Chicago Wolves’ American Hockey League Calder Cup championship in June.

Jonathon Blum ‘one to watch’ at Predators camp

Defenseman Jonathon Blum, the first player born and developed in California to be drafted in the first round of the Entry Draft, is featured on the Nashville Predators’ Web site as a player to watch in the team’s traning camp. Click here to read the story.

Blum (Rancho Santa Margarita) was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft after leading the Vancouver Giants to the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup title. Blum was the second-highest-scoring defenseman in the Western Hockey League in 2007-08 and has been named the Giants’ captain for the upcoming season.