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.

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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.

Defensemen going different directions

With the New Year came news about two moves being made by young defensemen with ties to California.

Former San Jose Jr. Sharks defenseman Ben Paulides has committed to Miami, Ohio. Paulides has brought a physical style of play to the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms the past two seasons. Read more about his season here. The RedHawks regularly reside near the top of the Division I polls.

Meanwhile, former LA Selects defenseman William Wrenn, a 2009 draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, decided to leave Denver University at the semester break and sign on with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, meaning his NCAA eligibility is gone. You can read Portland’s take here.

Wrenn will have the benefit of playing for former LA Kings assistant Mike Johnston in Portland, who has led the Winterhawks to the top of the U.S. Division.

Wrenn had played in 18 of DU’s first 22 games with one assist and a minus-7 rating for the nation’s No. 7 team. You can read the Denver take here.

Well-deserved first NHL goal

Alec Martinez‘s first NHL goal drew scant notice outside of the Los Angeles Kings’ broadcast and a mention in the LA Times a couple days after the fact.

Martinez, who played three seasons of youth hockey in Northern California for the Santa Clara Blackhawks and San Jose Jr. Sharks, scored during a 4-1 Kings loss at Montreal.

While happy to get his first NHL marker, Martinez — as one would expect from a hockey player — chose to focus on how that was secondary to the Kings not winning.

I’ve spoken with Alec a couple of times, mainly for some work with California Rubber Magazine, and have come away impressed. He enjoyed his time playing in California, and his youth coach — Larry Cahn, now of the San Diego Jr. Gulls — told me Alec is an example to all young players to keep working hard because you never know how things will turn out.

(For more on that, click here for a story and audio interview with Martinez at calirubber.com)

With the Kings’ offense slumping (and it has too much talent to stay that way, so take heart Kings fans), Martinez’s abilities are a nice fit.

Here’s hoping he sticks. After all, he’s already accomplished one goal of everyone who ever laced up skates.

California Midget Hockey

So much for the restful offseason, at least for the Midget hockey ranks in California.

Several developments have taken place that will profoundly affect the 2009-10 season.

This starts with the Jr. Kings, who participated in the Tier I Elite Hockey League this past season at the 18U level. Their 16U team will join the league this coming season. This adds a travel burden, but the pay off, and Jr. Kings coaches told me this all season, is their teams will play five games guaranteed in three days, and play them against a quality caliber of competition. Those are important distinctions because most tournaments only guarantee three or four games, and unless it’s an elite tournament, it’s tough to anticipate what level of competition you’re going to face.

Shortly thereafter, the LA Selects 18s and 16s were invited to join the Tier I Elite league. This makes sense given that program’s track record of success and the desire to cluster teams geographically. What I will be interested to see is how they match up at 18s because the Selects are typically so strong at Bantam and 16U that most of their best players move on at 16. But it can only help hockey in Southern California to have two teams in that league. The Jr. Kings played host to the Detroit division in a showcase event last December, and it featured some terrific hockey.

This past week, the Southern California Titans and San Jose Jr. Sharks announced they were joining the new North American Prospects Hockey League at the 18 and 16 Tier I levels. That league includes 20 programs from all over the country. Just like the Tier I EHL, the NAPHL will have showcase weekends, though not nearly as many to start. One of those will be in San Jose in February, just before the state tournament.

The new league is part of the NAHL junior circuit, which battles the perception it is inferior to the USHL. In theory, this could give NAHL teams a distinct recruiting advantage with some programs. Really, it gives Jr. A hockey a bit more of a foothold in a state where the trend of late has been to have top-end prospects head to the WHL.

The fifth 18UAAA team last season was the California Wave, and I wondered aloud over the weekend – what about the Wave? That question was answered Sunday night when the Jr. Kings announced a partnership with the Wave at the 18U Tier I and Bantam Tier II levels for the 2009-10 season.

I have a few more questions – what about beyond next season? Could it become a permanent merger? Team managers I’ve spoken with recently expect numbers to be down in travel hockey because of the economy.

My other question is what about the “mid majors”, programs like the California Stars, OC Hockey Club, Tri Valley Blue Devils, California Heat, San Diego Jr. Gulls? All have had very good AA and AAA squads, though not at every age level every year. How do they fit into this new midget world order?

Stay tuned.

11 California teams at Nationals

A total of 11 California youth hockey teams have advanced to the USA Hockey National Championships, to be held at various locations April 1-5.

I have been unable to confirm if this is a record, but it is close if it isn’t.

The teams are:

Tier I

18U Midget – LA Jr. Kings

Bantam – LA Selects

Pee Wee – LA Selects

Tier II

18 U Midget – Tri Valley Blue Devils

16U Midget – California Heat

Bantam – LA Hockey Club

Pee Wee – San Jose Jr. Sharks

Girls/Women’s

12U -Anaheim Lady Ducks

14U – Anaheim Lady Ducks

19U – LA Selects

Women’s C – San Jose Lady Sharks

Congratulations to all of these teams and their families!