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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California’s three-headed AHL Monster

This is a follow-up to my post earlier this week on Californians who have made the most of their NHL call-ups. That wasn’t a comprehensive list, only a few of the notables. Several others have played NHL games this season, and even more are thriving in the American Hockey League this season.

Let’s take a closer look at three more players with California ties who are playing for the Lake Erie Monsters, the top farm team of the Colorado Avalanche, this season.

Defenseman Raymond Macias of Long Beach had 13 points through 38 games, and he has battled through a few injuries. Ray played six games for the Avs at the end of the 2008-09 season. He’s a steady two-way defenseman, and with the Avalanche rebuilding, perhaps he will get another shot. Ray also might be one of the few players whose mother is more well-known in California hockey circles than he is. Helen Alex is a longtime team manager for the LA Jr. Kings, and has had a huge impact on hundreds of players’ careers through her caring ways.

Rookie Mark Olver spent a season with the California Wave, and teamed with, among others, Huntington Beach’s Rhett Rakhshani, to help the 88 birth year win a Bantam AAA national title in 2003. Through 58 games, the forward led the team in goals with 23 and had 40 points.

The third Monster has what I consider one of the more compelling stories of a pro from California.

Forward Matt Ford of West Hills has worked his way into a steady gig in the AHL and has 32 points, including 20 goals, through 63 games. That’s good, but how he got there is the impressive part to me.

Matt — whose father still can be found tending goal at rinks throughout Southern California — and his good buddy Brian Salcido , a one-time Ducks prospect, attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep in Minnesota, where they won a national title with a guy named Crosby on their team (as well as a King named Jack Johnson and a Sabre named Drew Stafford).

Matt then won a national championship in 2006 with the Wisconsin Badgers (which as a native Cheesehead I need to personally thank him for). In between he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks and never really given a look. He pressed on and stayed in school all four years (by the way, that’s a great idea kids).

Matt started his pro career with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL and played well enough to win All-Star Game MVP honors in 2009. He had a couple of cups of coffee with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack (a NY Rangers farm team) and a warmer with the Monsters later that season.

He got a camp invite from the Vancouver Canucks that summer, but found himself back in Charlotte however briefly before sticking with the Monsters last season, when he put up 27 points in 43 games.

His 20 goals this season are two off his pro high (21 of which were scored in the ECHL) in 2008-09. Matt is a study in perseverance and hard work, and he’s just one call away from the NHL.

Californians at NHL prospects camps

Several recent NHL draftees from California have been attending prospects camps during the past week, and several were noted on various team sites.

On the New York Islanders’ site, forward Rhett Rakhshani of Huntington Beach is mic-ed up for some of the scrimmage video highlights (Day 3). If one looks carefully, you can spot the Denver University product behind John Tavares on the camp opening page. Rakhshani, incidentally, has been selected DU’s captain for the upcoming season.

Forward Colin Long of Santa Ana is quoted several times throughout coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes’ camp on the team’s web site. Long served as captain for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League this past season, and the Rockets came within one game of winning the Memorial Cup.

The Edmonton Oilers have a nice video interview with defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland on their prospects camp coverage. Bigos addresses a variety of topics, including winning the RBC Cup and his college choice of Merrimack.

And the Detroit Red Wings have a nice feature on forward Mitch Callahan on their site. Callahan went from being a walk-on player at Kelowna’s camp to a sixth-round draft choice in one year!

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

California hockey alumni updates

This week my Alumni Report on http://www.calirubber.com focuses on California-trained hockey players in the NCAA Division I and Division III ranks.

Several men and women are leading their teams in scoring, and a few are among the NCAA leaders.

In the Division I women’s game, Northeastern sophomore F Kristi Kehoe (Bakersfield) and Providence freshman F Laura Veharanta (La Verne) lead their respective teams in scoring, and freshman F Paula Romanchuk (San Jose) tops Princeton in goals.

In the Division I men’s game, sophomore F Jason Krispel (Cypress) of Connecticut, freshman F Nielsson Arcibal (Vista) of American International lead their teams in scoring, and junior F Rhett Rakhshani (Huntington Beach) of Denver, junior F Ryan Lasch (Lake Forest) of St. Cloud State and freshman F Casey Wellman (Brentwood) of Massachusetts are second on their teams in scoring.

It also was a big week for pros from California.

Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks had a five-goal week and was recognized as the NHL’s Second Star of the Week. Forwards Matt Ford of the Charlotte Checkers and Tim Kraus of the Ontario Reign were selected to the ECHL All-Star Game.

Click here for the full report

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