Californians at NHL Prospects Camps

The hockey season doesn’t end, it just goes through different phases. At least that was the impression I got from talking to the two California-born and -trained prospects selected in June’s NHL Entry Draft recently.

Gracious though they were, it was clear Thatcher Demko (2nd round, Vancouver) and Chase De Leo (fourth round, Winnipeg) were craving a bit of a break. They won’t say it but who could blame them.

Demko played well into April, helping lead Boston College to the Frozen Four despite the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season. He emerged as the Eagles’ starter in net as the season wore on and stayed there with impressive results (16-5-3, 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage).

De Leo and the Portland Winterhawks advanced to a Game 7 against eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton in the WHL finals. De Leo played a big role in the Winterhawks’ success, racking up 81 points (including 39 goals) in 72 regular-season games and adding 19 more points in 21 playoff games. And he had a plus-49 rating and was solid in the circle.

At the end of May, it was on to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Then, the bubbly had barely dried on the Kings’ second Stanley Cup in three seasons when the draft rolled around in late June.

Within two weeks, most NHL teams held their prospect camps. Here is a partial (I hope mostly complete) list of Californians who participated. Bear in mind, the state has a large number of players who are established in the American Hockey League and those guys usually don’t attend prospects camps these days.

Western Conference

Ducks – F Nic Kerdiles, D Scott Savage, F Chase Souto and F Brian Williams

Comment: I watched one of their scrimmages and was thoroughly impressed with Kerdiles’ play (2 goals, 1 assist, involved in every facet) as well as that of Savage (who attended as an undrafted invitee). Kerdiles (2nd round, 2012) left Wisconsin after his sophomore season to sign with the Ducks and fared well in an AHL cameo at season’s end. Savage was a BC teammate of Demko’s and was the Eagles’ second-highest-scoring blue liner as a true freshman. He made plays and was a physical presence. Williams flashed elite skating and hands, and given his smaller stature (5-8, 175) was also engaged physically, particularly in the offensive zone. Williams scored 36 goals in the WHL, and someone has to give him a chance in the pros. I did not see Souto play unfortunately.

Sharks – F Matt Nieto, Savage

Comment: Interesting that San Jose would have Nieto, who had 24 points and played 66 games in the NHL, at summer camp, but he has only played 20 games total in the minors so perhaps they thought more experience was necessary. … And yes, Savage attended TWO prospects camps, something that is not unusual for college free agents.

Kings – F Patrick Newell

Comment: Nice move by the champs to invite a former Jr. King to prospects camp. Newell is a St. Cloud State commit who scored 43 points in 59 games for Clark Cup champion Indiana of the USHL.

Chicago – F Fredrik Olofsson, F Nolan Stevens

Comment: The Blackhawks picked Olofsson, who skated as a Mite and Squirt for the Santa Clara Blackhawks, one pick before the Jets took De Leo in the fourth round (98th overall). Stevens is a former Jr. King who has committed to Northeastern.

Minnesota – D Gustav Oloffson

Comment: Fredrik’s older brother, a 2013 second-round pick, signed with the Wild after one season at Colorado College.

Vancouver – Demko (see above)

Winnipeg – De Leo, G Eric Comrie

Comment: Comrie (2nd/2013) came back strong from hip surgery during the 2012-13 season to go 26-25-9 with a 2.57 GAA and .925 save percentage for Tri-City of the WHL. He and De Leo are close friends and former LA Selects teammates.

Eastern Conference

Detroit – F Mitch Callahan

Comment: The needle is pointing way up for the 2009 sixth-round pick. He made his NHL debut this past season and played a well-rounded game for Grand Rapids of the AHL, scoring 26 goals among his 44 points. His coach told me a few months back he trusts him in every situation.

Florida – F Rocco Grimaldi

Comment: Derailed by a knee injury his freshman season at North Dakota, Grimaldi was stellar the past two seasons, scoring 36 and 39 points. The highest drafted of any of these prospects (33rd overall in 2011), Grimaldi joins a rebuilding franchise that is intent on working in its prospects.

N.Y. Islanders – G Blake Weyrick

Comment: Surprisingly not selected in the entry draft despite being ranked as high as third by NHL Central Scouting (mid-term). Like Nieto, Grimaldi, Kerdiles, Demko and Stevens, he came up through the USNTDP program. He de-committed from Brown and could play for Tri-City of the USHL, which holds his rights.

Philadelphia – G Merrick Madsen

Comment: Like Demko and Weyrick, Madsen is another tall (6-4) goalie. He spent this past season with Minot of NAHL and has committed to Harvard. The guess here is Philly will let him take his time to develop.

Tampa Bay – F Adam Erne

Comment: A 2013 second-rounder, the former LA Select got a taste of the AHL with Syracuse after scoring 62 points in 48 games with Quebec of the QMJHL. He is part of a large stable of talented forwards in the Lightning organization.

Washington – D Garrett Haar

Comment: A 2011 seventh-round pick, Haar played this past season with De Leo on Portland and had 45 points in 61 games after spending two seasons at Western Michigan. Let the pro apprenticeship begin.

One notable prospect who did not attend a camp, and it’s likely due to his contract status is forward Chase Balisy, who completed his eligibility at Western Michigan but apparently had not signed with Nashville, which drafted him in the sixth round in 2011. He could become an unrestricted free agent in August through a loophole Ducks fans (Justin Schultz) are painfully familiar with.