NHL debut candidates from California

They’re halfway through NHL training camps — already! It’s been just three days, and I see three candidates from California to possibly make their NHL debuts in the near future, and a fourth prospect with ties to the state to be in a team’s lineup come this weekend.

1. Wing Beau Bennett spent some time in Penguins practice on a line with All-Stars Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday. Bennett, a former LA Jr. King and LA Select who is in his first pro season after two NCAA seasons at Denver University, led Pittsburgh’s AHL club (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) in scoring with 24 points in 30 games. It’s a not a stretch at all that he will be in the Penguins’ lineup on opening night, and I have no doubt he will play several NHL games this season

2. Defenseman Matt Tennyson is in camp with the San Jose Sharks after a making a strong showing during his first pro season, ranking near the top of the Worcester (AHL) scoring list all season. Tennyson, who played two seasons for the Jr. Sharks before heading off to Juniors, spent the past three seasons at Western Michigan University with several other Californians before leaving school to sign with the Sharks as a free agent. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster he almost surely will be the first D-man called up.

3. Wing Emerson Etem also is in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His skating and scoring touch give him a chance to be with the club at some point this season, though his first pro season, after an absolutely dominant WHL campaign a year ago, has been sluggish at times. The Ducks have three forward openings to fill with younger players and/or veteran free agents, and Etem (like Bennett a 2010 first-round pick) certainly is in the mix. The guess (emphasis on guess) is that he will play up at some point this year but not at the start of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Bennett’s DU teammate, Jason Zucker, who made his debut with the Minnesota Wild last season. He has been off to a strong start with the AHL Houston Aeros, leading them in scoring for much of the season. With the Wild perpetually searching for more offense, he’s in a good position to start the season with them. But Minnesota is loaded with prospects, and it might decide he needs a bit more seasoning in the A before bringing him up.

Kerdiles, Haar survive US WJC cuts

Forward Nic Kerdiles and defenseman Garrett Haar survived the first round of cuts Tuesday at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The former LA Selects were among four players with ties to California originally invited to the 45-man camp. Forward Adam Reid, also a former Select, was among Tuesday’s cuts, and forward Rocco Grimaldi, who played for the California Wave, did not attend the camp while he rehabs a knee injury.

Kerdiles (’94) was a second-round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in June’s NHL Entry Draft. The leading scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U18 squad last season, he will begin his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.

Haar (’93) emerged as a force on the blue line for Western Michigan University last season after being a seventh-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Reid (’93) is entering his second season at Northeastern University, while Grimaldi (’93) — a second-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft — will be a redshirt freshman at North Dakota after injuries limited his true freshman season to four games.

 

Ducks prospects camp report

I had the opportunity Monday to catch up with all three of California’s prospects  who are participating in the Anaheim Ducks’ prospects camp, which concluded today at Anaheim Ice — Emerson Etem, Nic Kerdiles and Ryan Lasch.

All three played well in Monday’s scrimmage, which featured an uptempo pace throughout.

What’s interesting to me about the three is not only the different paths each took to get to this point, but the similarities in their most recent seasons.

Each of the three represented Team USA in international competition in 2012 — Etem at the World Junior Championships in January, Kerdiles at the World Under-18 Championships in April and Lasch at the World Championships in May.

Each either led his team or his league in goal scoring or points.

Etem, playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers, struck for a Western Hockey League-best 61 goals (and 50 in 50 games) while posting 107 points in 65 regular-season games. He led the Hat in scoring.

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Team Development Program in scoring with 48 points in 54 games, and he led them at the U18 Worlds, which he capped with a five-point game in a gold-medal blowout of Sweden.

Lasch put 61 points for the Lahti Penguins and led the Finnish Elite League in scoring. Lahti reached the league finals for the first time in its history.

How did they look against their peers? Pretty good.

All three were around the puck the entire scrimmage. Etem displayed an extra gear in his skating, allowing him to beat defenders one on one repeatedly. He consistently looked for the open man once in the zone. Kerdiles scored a goal and protected the puck very well, particularly along the wall, allowing his team to maintain possession in the zone. Lasch helped generate offensive chance after chance with his passing and shooting. His skating and passing were even better than I expected.

I came away with the impression that all three have a chance to play in Anaheim in the not-so-distant future. Etem and Lasch could contend for roster spots this fall. Both are physically mature, and Lasch already has two years of pro experience. Kerdiles is much closer than many might realize, and his poise with the puck was no less impressive, but Ducks director of player development Todd Marchant told me the club wants Kerdiles to continue to develop at the University of Wisconsin this season.

One other thing: each of the three is keenly aware of how important it would be for a California prospect to make a local team and play well.

Said Lasch: “It says something about the direction California hockey is going. There’s more players coming out of here with more skill. If that trend continues you’re going to see more progress (in the game) as the years go.”

Added Etem: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence the three of us are here. There is a lot of development going on in California, starting with the coaching and skill development year-round. A lot of rinks keep the ice in so we’re able to train all year.”

Kerdiles pointed to the Ducks’ Stanley Cup triumph in 2007 and the Kings’ matching one last month as harbingers of more good things in the grass-roots game. “I think California hockey is going to blossom.”

Marchant summed it up. “It’s nice to see local kids be recognized for the work they’ve put in and being drafted and playing professional hockey. It would be a great tribute to the organization and the players if at some point they’re playing on the big team.”

 

California’s Cup similarities

Should the LA Kings win the Stanley Cup tonight they would complete a historically dominant playoff run. Their 16-2 record would tie the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the best playoff mark since the league shifted to four seven-game series.

As I pondered this in light of  the book this morning a few things stood out to me.

That amazing Oilers team, and the city of Edmonton, province of Alberta and even nation of Canada never were the same two months later … when Wayne Gretzky and Marty McSorley were traded to the Kings. For that matter, neither was hockey in Los Angeles or California.

Even if the Kings don’t win tonight — and they’ve dropped two of three Game 4s while holding 3-0 series leads thus far in the playoffs — the odds are stacked in their favor to win the Cup.

I also wondered how this Kings team stacks up against one of the more dominant Cup winners in recent times — their neighbors to the south, the Anaheim Ducks, whose birth was a byproduct of Gretzky’s change of address and the Kings’ run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs record was 16-5. The did not sweep a series (as the King have twice), and they faced a much tougher foe in the Western Conference finals, the Detroit Red Wings, whom they knocked off 4-2. The Wings went on to win the Cup the next season and returned to the Final in 2009 only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Anaheim was very dominant during the 2006-07 regular season, amassing a league-best 110 points, while the Kings made it as an eighth seed. Anaheim had 48 wins, and with 14 overtime or shootout losses, the Ducks came very close to cracking the vaunted 50-win barrier. Those Ducks were a balanced bunch, with eight players scoring 44 or more points, including current King Dustin Penner with 45. Scoring was the Kings’ Achilles’ heel this season as only four players had 44 or more points during the regular season, Penner with just 18.

Penner, the connection between the two teams, added eight more points (including three goals) in the 2007 playoffs. He has surpassed that already in fewer games this spring with 11 points, including three goals.

&&&

This is a good time to mention a quintet of men associated with the Kings who have been immensely helpful in my efforts to research the book during the past four years — broadcasters Bob Miller, Jim Fox and Darryl Evans, as well as media relations personnel Jeff Moeller and Mike Kalinowski. All are dedicated to the Kings and to the sport and don’t get the recognition they deserve.

 

Kings’ Cup run paralells ’03 Ducks run

If the Los Angeles Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals this season seems familiar to you, it should.

It is strangely similar to that of the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. And while that comparison might make Kings fans cough up their Corn Flakes, there are several compelling reasons to draw this conclusion.

The 2003 Ducks rode the unreal goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a 12-2 record through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The 2012 Kings have gotten stellar play in net from Jonathan Quick en route to a 12-2 record through three rounds.

The Ducks, the sixth seed that season, vanquished the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in four games in the first round. The Kings, the eighth seed, knocked off the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks in the first round (before taking seeds 2 and 3 in the West).

Both teams made key acquisitions before and during their respective seasons.

The Ducks signed Adam Oates and traded for Petr Sykora, two forwards who boosted the club’s offense. Anaheim then added defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and forwards Steve Thomas and Rob Niedermayer at the trade deadline. All were huge contributors to the Ducks reaching the postseason and then rolling through it.

The Kings traded two elite young forwards to obtain center Mike Richards this past summer. Then at the deadline, they shipped defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus to obtain Richards’ former Flyers running mate Jeff Carter.

Then there is the opponent in the Finals — the New Jersey Devils. Only Patrick Elias and goaltender Martin Brodeur remain from the 2003 Finals team.

Let’s hope history does not repeat itself because after a long layoff between rounds, the Ducks lost to the Devils in seven games.

&&&

The Devils feature several familiar faces to California hockey fans, starting with their assistant coaches — Larry Robinson and Adam Oates. Robinson finished his Hall of Fame playing career with the Kings and later coached them to their only playoff appearance between the 1993 Cup Finals and 2001. Oates was a key member of that first Ducks Finals team.

Four players on the Devils have played for California NHL franchises, including the aforementioned Sykora (who returned to the NHL after playing in Europe) and former Duck Ryan Carter, as well as former King Peter Harrold and former Shark Steve Bernier.

Etem helps AHL team clinch playoff spot

Anaheim Ducks prospect Emerson Etem of Long Beach scored the winning goal in his second pro game to help the Syracuse Crunch defeat the Albany Devils, 2-1, on Saturday to clinch an American Hockey League playoff berth.

Etem, the second of two Ducks first-round picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center, led the Western Hockey League with 61 goals this season while playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Etem told the Syracuse Post-Standard: “It’s a good confidence booster. I just have to move on. I still have to work on a couple things in my game. The guys (in the pros) are bigger. They are men. Faster, stronger. It’s a new challenge for me.’’

Bennett signs, Etem to AHL, Lasch to Team USA

Just another routine day for hockey in California …

Many people believe Friday the 13th is somehow hexed, but you’d have a hard time convincing fans of hockey in the state of that. Two huge pieces of news broke today about prospects from the state to go with another newsworthy note from a few days ago.

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Beau Bennett, who to this point is the highest-drafted California-born and -trained hockey player (20th overall in 2010). Bennett just finished his sophomore season at Denver University. His campaign was shortened by what turned out to be season-ending wrist surgery in December. His contract takes effect beginning next season (and hopefully there will be a next season given the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players expires this summer). He is a former LA Jr. Kings and LA Selects players.
  • Anaheim Ducks prospect Emerson Etem, who was drafted nine spots behind Bennett in the 2010 Entry Draft at Staples Center, will make his AHL debut tonight for the Syracuse Crunch. Etem absolutely tore up the Western Hockey League this season, scoring a league-best 61 goals among his 107 points. Etem was a former Selects teammate of Bennett’s and also played for the Long Beach Jr. Ice Dogs.
  • And Ryan Lasch, who set St. Cloud State’s career scoring record two seasons ago before heading off to Europe to play professionally, was the only non-NHL player selected to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Championships. Lasch, who played for the SouthCoast Sabres, Westminster Wave and Long Beach Jr. Ice Dogs, had 62 points in 59 games in Finland’s top pro league this past season. It’s fair to ask if this might open doors for him to eventually play in the NHL given his strong track record of offensive production. … One of Lasch’s teammates on Team USA will be Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, who played for the Jr. Kings for a few seasons in the early 2000s.

And if that weren’t enough, the LA Kings try to take two in a row from the “beloved” Canucks in Vancouver tonight.

Maybe I should stick to youth hockey?

Well, that didn’t take long.

Within hours of writing this yesterday:

“Frankly, the Ducks take a lot of undisciplined penalties (they spend 14 and half minutes per game in the box, in the bottom six in the league) and seem to complain to the refs a lot … in addition to not always seeming prepared. Those factors point to the coach, but I remain convinced Randy Carlyle won’t be going anywhere. The ownership still remembers 2007.”

The Ducks promptly went out and defeated the Montreal Candiens … and then fired Carlyle.

Clearly predictions aren’t a strong suit in this corner.

A few thoughts on Bruce Boudreau‘s hiring (and maybe Bobby Ryan should contact movers now because I really don’t think they’ll trade him — if they ever were considering that option). I think Boudreau will bring a needed new voice and most likely tailor his coaching to the players’ strengths, and that bodes well for players such as Ryan, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, as well as their more offensively gifted defensemen.

A quick did you know on Boudreau — it was his apartment in Johnstown, Pa., that Paul Newman “lived” in during “Slap Shot”. That, if nothing else, bodes well for the Ducks.

Straying from youth hockey to the NHL for a moment

I had the opportunity to watch all three of California’s NHL teams in person during a four-day span recently, and I came away with the following impressions.

The Anaheim Ducks will have long road back to the playoffs. Duh, they’ve lost 16 of 18 games and can’t hold a lead.

I watched them give up four goals in the first nine minutes of the third period to Chicago and snatch a 6-5 defeat from what once was a 4-1 lead. And I don’t blame Jonas Hiller for the Blackhawks’ outburst, though he could have stopped a few of the goals in the third-period blitz. The Ducks’ d-zone coverage was willy nilly (to put it mildly) all game, and particularly so in the third.

But the Ducks’ problems extend beyond a leaky defense, which clearly misses Lubomir Visnovsky. If the top two lines don’t score, the Ducks don’t score.  23 games into the season no forward not named Selanne-Perry-Getzlaf-Koivu-Ryan has more than nine points.

But the top line of Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Bobby Ryan is a combined minus-29, so for all the offense they provide (45 points, including 21 goals) they give up a lot more. One forward you can’t fault is Teemu Selanne, who not only leads the team in points (22), but is just minus-3, a Selke Trophy candidate compared to his top-line brethren.

Rumors of a Ryan trade are flooding the Internet, and he’s an easy target given he has just 11 points in 23 games and a minus-6. But do you really want to trade a player of Ryan’s ability so early in his career? If they could pry Shea Weber or Ryan Suter from Nashville, OK. But unless you’re talking a franchise defenseman, forget it.

Frankly, the Ducks take a lot of undisciplined penalties (they spend 14 and half minutes per game in the box, in the bottom six in the league) and seem to complain to the refs a lot … in addition to not always seeming prepared. Those factors point to the coach, but I remain convinced Randy Carlyle won’t be going anywhere. The ownership still remembers 2007.

Monday, I watched the Kings shut out the Sharks at Staples Center.

The Kings played aggressively from the start and it paid off with some gritty goals. They also built a fairly substantial shot advantage, which few teams do to the Sharks.

But then the Kings seemed to get conservative and back roared the puck-possessing Sharks. In the end, goaltender Jonathan Quick was the difference, and he had to be. Once the Sharks gained control of the puck, they started to get power plays, and Quick was brilliant, often stopping second and third chances.

I expect both to be playoff teams, and it wouldn’t surprise me if both won a round, but I also saw some warning signs for both teams.

The Sharks were a bit careless with the puck, particularly on the blue line. Dan Boyle and Brett Burns are extremely talented players, but both had multiple give-aways. But both demonstrated how their puck-moving abilities also can spark San Jose’s transition game.

The Kings seem deeper than in years past, but they’re still missing a creative offensive player or two. Yes, Mike Richards helps their offense (and defense), but I still saw Anze Kopitar getting ganged up on. Simon Gagne is still a very good player, but injuries clearly have robbed him of something over the years.

When the Kings play aggressively, but don’t warm the penalty box seat, they’re tough to deal with. Sustaining that appeared problematic.

The difference, the Kings’ lockdown style could work in the playoffs if they can manufacture timely goals and stay out of the penalty box. I had the sense watching the Sharks that I’ve seen this before, which means a very good regular season and who knows after that.

Etem, McColgan, Maxwell headline California’s WHL ties in ’11-12

It’s too early to tell how the Anaheim Ducks’ offense will shape up this season, but should goals become scarce the Ducks might want to re-think sending California prospect Emerson Etem back to junior.

Etem (Long Beach) was a first-round pick in 2010 and a late camp cut this season. No one questions his speed or will to win, nor should they question his offensive ability after the tear he is on for the Medicine Hat Tigers thus far.

Etem was selected the WHL’s Player of the Week after scoring six goals and adding an assist in three games this past weekend. Through eight games, he has 13 goals, which leads the Dub by five. His 17 points (13-4) are one off the league lead.

Etem headlines a group of 17 players with California ties in the Dub this season.

The group is composed of two goalies (Kelowna’s Adam Brown, 91, and Tri-City’s Eric Comrie, 95); six defensemen and nine forwards.

By birth year, there are five 95s, two 94s, one 93, four 92s and five 91s.

Here is a team-by-team look at California’s prospects:

High-scoring left wing Tyler Maxwell (91), who attended training camp with the Minnesota Wild, returns for Everett. … Brown is joined in Kelowna by right wing Shane McColgan (93), a fifth-round pick of the New York Rangers in June’s NHL Entry Draft. McColgan has been a point-per-game player the past two seasons and performed so well at prospect camp that the Rangers invited him to their main camp. … Etem is joined by veteran defeneseman Matthew Konan (91), a previous invitee to Ducks camps, in Medicine Hat.

Portland’s roster includes left wing Tyler Parker (92), and defensemen Cody Castro (92) and William Wrenn (91), a 2009 San Jose Sharks pick who played for the LA Selects. Wrenn is the team’s captain. The Winter Hawks could have had a third California d-man, but Taylor Aronson, a 2010 third-round pick of the Nashville Predators, made Milwaukee of the AHL.

A third California native made Portland, center Chase De Leo, who like Comrie is part of a strong group of 95s from the state. That group also includes Tri-City center Brian Williams, Victoria left wing Taylor Crunk and Prince George defenseman Michael Mylchreest.

The 94s, who are eligible for next June’s entry draft, are Kamloops right wing Chase Souto and Spokane center Liam Stewart.

Other 92s in the Dub include a pair of defensemen, Tyler Vanscourt with Prince Albert and Brandon Underwood with Regina.

Next: A look at California’s NCAA Division I players