2013 California NHL Draft prospects, mid-term

NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings were released this week, and there are four players with ties to California who were listed: Eric Comrie, Adam Erne, Merrick Madsen and Trevor Moore.

There also were a handful of players who, in my opinion, were overlooked. It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me because the CSS rankings tend to trend heavily toward CHL prospects, usually at the expense of U.S.-born players in the USHL. More on that later.

Here are the four that CSS ranked:

Eric Comrie is the second-ranked North American goaltending prospect, and it’s not hard to see why he’s generating buzz that he could be a first-round pick come June. The 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie has a 20-14-3 record, 2.62 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for a young, middle of the pack Tri-City Americans team in the Western Hockey League. The former LA Select is tied for fourth in wins, is seventh in save percentage and eighth in gaa in the WHL.

Left wing Adam Erne is rated 13th among North American skaters and is enjoying an excellent season with Quebec of the QMJHL. Erne scored a goal in Wednesday night’s CHL Top Prospects game, and leads his team in scoring with 54 points (20 goals and 34 assists) in 43 games. He’s also plus-9. He played two seasons of Bantam hockey for the LA Selects.

Left wing Trevor Moore is the 108th-ranked North American skater, and is enjoying a fine season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He leads the Storm in scoring, with 38 points (15-23) in 35 games and has been among the league’s top-10 or close to it in scoring all season. The 5-10, 175-pound Denver University commit also played for the LA Selects.

Merrick Madsen, who is playing for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, checks in as the 34th-ranked North American goalie prospect. Madsen has committed to Harvard. Prior to going to prep school, he played for the California Heat, West Valley Wolves and Valencia Express. His mom is the Heat’s club president and his father coaches at the club.

The first three players on this list all were teammates for the Selects’ 95s, coached by Sandy Gasseau, Rick Kelly and Bill Comrie. A handful of their teammates also could gain some consideration, including USNTDP defenseman Scott Savage and Shattuck St. Mary’s center Max Becker. Savage has 5 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games for the national program, while Becker was third on SSM’s varsity with 48 points (12-36) through 38 games.

Three other prospects have generated a fair amount of buzz, and with good reason, yet none appear in the rankings, adding fuel to my belief of the CSS’ bias.

USNTDP goaltender Thatcher Demko has been very good this season, compiling a 13-5-2 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 22 starts. He’s been even better in international competitions. He helped Team USA win the Four Nations Cup in November, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 gaa. The former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Jr. King stands 6-4, and it is a head scratcher to me why he isn’t ranked when every coach and scout I’ve spoken with has raved about the Boston College commit.

Another goaltender who has had a very good first half to his season is former Orange County Hockey Club netminder Artt Brey, who started 12-0 for Dubuque in the USHL and had a 16-3-2 records midway through the season. The win total and his 2.11 gaa were tied for second in the league, and his .907 save percentage was in the top 10. He’s a ’94, and that in part explains his omission.

And Moore’s Tri-City teammate Garrett Gamez also has generated some buzz. The 6-foot, 180-pound DU commit had 10 points (6-4) with a plus-3 mark in his first 27 games of junior. He played for LA Hockey and OC Hockey.

California’s 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects

There are nine players with ties to California who have appeared on watch lists or ranked at various times this season by the NHL Central Scouting Service. Here is a closer look those draft prospects. An NHL amateur scout offered his assessment of selected prospects.

F Nic Kerdiles, 6-foot-2, 201-pounds, USNTDP

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).  The former LA Select was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, and he capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden. … Scout: “The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger. He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.”

F Miles Koules, 5-11, 189, USNTDP

The former LA Select appeared on the fall watch list and in both rankings, finishing as the 201st North American skater. … LA native had 16 points, including 12 assists in 42 games. … He recently de-committed to North Dakota to play for Medicine Hat of the WHL next season. … Scout: “Has big-time skill, gets pucks to people. Smart but needs to work on his strength and skating to separate himself from the pack.”

F Nik Olsson, 6-1, 194, USNTDP

Olsson (Escondido) had his season again ended early by injuries. He was rated 136th in the mid-term rankings. Five goals in 41 games. … Scout: “Tough for a team to pick him because of lack of games. Depending on what he does school-wise he might be drafted out of college.”

F Adam Reid, 6-4, 205, Northeastern (Hockey East)

Freshman from Chino Hills emerged as a top-notch penalty killer and energy player who chipped in nine points (including six goals) in 33 games. … Was 143rd in mid-term rankings in his second year of draft eligibility. … Scout: “He plays a north-south power game. A character player. If he’s not drafted, he could be a college free-agent target.”

Three more players were ranked on the fall watch list:

F Adam Chlapik, 6-0, 181, left shot, Muskegon (USHL)

The former LA Jr. King had 16 points in 43 USHL games with three clubs this season.

D Chris Buchanan, 6-1, 185, right shot, Alaska (NAHL)

The San Jose native and former Jr. Shark provided solid defense in 47 games for the Avalanche.

C Dennis Kravchenko, 5-9, 168, left shot, Cedar Rapids (USHL)

The former LA Select (Laguna Niguel) had 21 points in 34 games for the Roughriders after putting up 18 points in 30 games for Wichita Falls of the NAHL.  … A 2013 Vermont commit.

In addition, left wing Stefan Matteau, who played for the San Jose Jr. Sharks as a Mite, was rated 17th among North American skaters on the final rankings. The 6-2, 210-pounder also plays for the USNTDP.

And defenseman Josh Hanson, who played for the LA Selects Midget 16U AAA team in 2009-10, climbed to 102nd in the final rankings after being 149th at mid-term. The 6-2, 199-pounder had 13 assists for Portland of the WHL.

Taking a closer look at California draft prospect Nic Kerdiles

When Nic Kerdiles was the final pick for California’s 2004 The Brick Invitational Tournament team the selection had a lot to do with his size and potential.

When an NHL club calls his name, most likely during the first or second round, at next month’s Entry Draft in Pittsburgh those will remain two appealing attributes, but the club will get a much more refined version of the young man who was exclusively a roller hockey player until 2003.

“Nic has developed about as far as anyone could,” said Louis Pacella, his coach for six seasons with LA Hockey Club/LA Selects. “When he started it was always about what he could be, not what he was.”

Fast forward to the present and the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Kerdiles (Irvine) progressed to the point where he led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).

Kerdiles, who was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden.

Team USA dominated the field, outscoring foes 27-4 despite having fellow draft prospect Stefan Matteau ruled ineligible because he had not played hockey for two consecutive full years in the United States.

“He’s obviously a good player,” Kerdiles said. “I knew I needed to produce and play well, better than I have all year.”

Kerdiles, who comes from an extremely close family, had additional motivation at Worlds. He played with a heavy heart after the recent passing of his paternal grandfather, who was scheduled to join Nic’s parents, one of his older sisters, an aunt and a cousin in the Czech Republic.

“That was a big part of why I played so well – I had him looking over me at the World Championships,” he said. “My grandpa had done so much for me. I wished he could have seen me, but our entire family has grown even closer.”

And Kerdiles redirects credit to his parents, Michel and Nathalie, as quickly as he would a point shot headed toward an opponent’s net.

“They have great work ethics and they have sacrificed so much for me,” Nic said. “That’s where I get it from. This is a way I can thank them for all they’ve done.”

What they and his sisters, Marine and Mailys, have done is instill a team-first attitude, Pacella said.

“All of them sacrificed to help him; he has a great support system at home,” Pacella said. “They are very loyal to their son.

“It’s not easy being a Tier 1 hockey player in Southern California, but they just supported Nic so he could develop physically. He didn’t spend a lot of time in private lessons. He spent more time working in the weight room and practicing.”

Whether his strong finish to the season and his labor to get stronger impact his placement in the draft remains to be seen, Kerdiles decided early on that giving himself a chance to play hockey at the highest levels was his goal.

“I’ve thought about it ever since I started playing,” he said. “My Pee Wee AAA year I started to play a bigger role and we had a real good season. By my Bantam AAA year a lot of good things (including interest from the USNTDP and major colleges) started happening.”

Watching the NHL Entry Draft in person at Staples Center and seeing good friend Emerson Etem selected in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks only steeled Kerdiles’ resolve further.

“That’s when I said, ‘Wow, this is pretty special,’” Kerdiles said. “That pushed me to work harder.”

And that has caught scouts’ attention.

“The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger,” said an NHL amateur scout. “He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.

“He has the ability to slow things down and shield the puck while he makes his reads. And he doesn’t quit after he moves.”

That Kerdiles’ game has a mature feel to it shouldn’t come as a surprise, Pacella said.

“I used to kid him that he was 14 going on 40. It’s a credit to his parents,” the coach said. “He never got involved with crap that other teen-agers did. He didn’t have to be Mr. Popular in the locker room because he was very focused.”

Now rewind eight years and it’s not hard to see why Kerdiles was an appealing choice for the Brick team.

“One thing that stood out was how hard he worked,” Pacella said. “He was always smiling on the ice, having fun. He made it to the point we couldn’t not take him.”

Come this weekend in Pittsburgh an NHL club no doubt will feel the same way.

California’s first trip to Nationals

The nearly two dozen teams from California playing in the USA Hockey Nationals this week have arrived at their various sites and no doubt are resting up for Wednesday’s opening games.

But did you know California first sent a youth hockey team to Nationals (then the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States or AHAUS) in 1962? A Bantam team playing out of Van Nuys Iceland represented the state.

What’s notable was that the team included the late Ken Vogel, who would go on to play for Jack Riley (coach of the 1960 Squaw Valley gold-medal winners) at West Point; Brian Bird, who would go on to captain Yale; and Cary Adams, who founded the PCHA, the circuit for college club teams in the Western United States.

The team was an all-star team of Southern California Junior Ice Hockey League players from the San Fernando Valley (north of downtown Los Angeles). Participants came from rinks in Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Tarzana. The SCJIHL disbanded shortly thereafter with GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) absorbing the clubs.

The team was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel.

It also surprises many to discover that by the late 60s the state was sending players to some of the top college hockey programs in the country, a topic I am tackling in depth in the hockey book.
So while we celebrate all the hard work of the boys and girls who are at Nationals this year, take a minute to consider this is the 50th anniversary of California participating in the event.

Thanks to Cary for this rare photo.

California's first youth hockey team to reach Nationals went much earlier than most might think -- 1962. The squad was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel (kneeling in front row).

Pacific Districts leftovers – LA Selects edition

The LA Selects sent three of their AAA teams to the Pacific District regionals this past weekend, and while the Pee Wees and Bantams advanced to the USA Hockey Nationals, I wanted to start with the 16U team.

Coach Sandy Gasseau‘s squad lost a heart-breaking semifinal to the Alaska Wolves, 4-3, in quadruple overtime in a game that ranks with the most exciting I’ve watched at this level during the past four seasons. The Selects had several chances to win it, particularly early in multiple overtimes, and ultimately outshot Alaska, 46-34, in the semifinal.

The Selects, who got second-period goals from Ethan Somoza, Stefan Malmlund and defenseman Kyle Mitsunaga (who led the team with three goals and four points for the tournament), qualified for districts as the CAHA State champion. After two round-robin victories, they lost to the rival LA Jr. Kings, 3-0, to set up the semifinal against Alaska.

At State I had a chance to ask Gasseau about his team, and he told me the season had been an unpredictable journey. He had several players playing AAA hockey for the first time and wasn’t sure how they would adapt. He saw improvement throughout the campaign, despite the loss of captain Ryan Schlerf for more than half of the season due to a severe concussion.

The Selects’ 16s deserve a lot of credit for what they accomplished and the heart they showed.

&&&

After the Selects’ Pee Wee 99s won the Elite Division of the Quebec International tournament, adding a district title would be no sweat, right? Not exactly.

The Jr. Kings led the Selects, 4-3, with 2 minutes to play only to see Brannon McManus tie and Vanya Lodnia, who was the MVP of the Quebec tournament, win it on a power-play goal just 11 seconds into overtime.

The Jr. Kings had taken a 4-3 lead with 4 minutes to play in regulation on Justin Ferrall’s second goal

“They’ve come through all year. This is a pretty resilient group,” Selects coach Shawn Pitcher said. “Never at any time did I feel they were in panic mode. They just kept plugging away.”

The Jr. Kings jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals by Casey Rhodes and Ferrall before the Selects rallied to go up 3-2 on strikes by McManus, Lodnia and Jake McGrew. The Jr. Kings tied it going into the third period on Nick Castro’s power-play goal.

“We knew (the Jr. Kings) were going to be hungry; it’s our rival,” Pitcher said. “Give the Kings credit, they didn’t give up.”

Meanwhile, the Selects’ Bantam 97s topped the Jr. Kings, 6-0, in the final to cap a weekend in which they outscored their foes, 35-4, and earned their first Nationals trip.

Robby Jackson led the tournament in points, while linemate Ty Comrie topped it in goals.

“Jackson was spectacular,” Selects coach Rick Kelly said of the center, who has nearly 200 points this season and is considered the top U.S. prospect on the West Coast among 97s. “I don’t think there is a player out there who wouldn’t have good chemistry with Robby. He is that good.”

Goaltender Evan Sarthou allowed just one goal all weekend.

“He was the MVP,” said Kelly, who has led numerous teams to Nationals. “It’s hard to spot the goalie when you win by wide margins, but he was just phenomenal. We started slow in our first game and he made one big save after another. He was the game-saver.”