California’s Oliver David continues blazing a trail behind the bench

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote came to mind recently when I was thinking about my friend Oliver David , the most idea-driven coach I know.

David, as you may know, was introduced as the coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, one of the premier junior hockey teams in the United States Hockey League, on June 5.

David_largeA passionate native of California, David is (to my knowledge) the first California-born and -trained coach to advance to a head-coaching position in our nation’s top junior hockey league.

His path has not been easy. He didn’t have the pedigree of an elite player. He didn’t play AAA hockey throughout his youth, high-level junior hockey or even college hockey. While he was a decent enough ice player to spend some time playing professionally in Germany, he made more of an impression on wheels. In the legendary, if short-lived, Pro Beach tour (yes, beach roller hockey!), David was the youngest player on the circuit, which in reality was a few weekends of inline hockey captured for months of ESPN programming.

The game’s lure prompted David to turn his attention to helping younger players achieve their dreams in this great sport, and he found himself in what would turn out to be a perfect spot to learn about teaching the game – Southern California. He was able to grow at a time when the game was growing in the Golden State.

One of the biggest early influences on David was Larry Bruyere, the former USA Hockey Pacific District Coach in Chief. The understated Bruyere has been seminal in providing opportunities and coaching for so many from California over four decades, and he’s never sought accolades. He and David crossed paths in Burbank in the early 1980s, and David has told me several times that Bruyere’s influence and assistance was key to getting him playing – and keeping him there.

While recovering from an injury during his short-lived pro career, David decided to coach. He landed a spot with the California Wave, helping Mike Lewis coach a 16AAA team that went on to win a USA Hockey National championship with a predominantly 1990 birth year group that included numerous players who went on to play Division I college hockey, including Brett Beebe, Matt Leitner, Troy Power and Steven Weinstein. The focused and somewhat elusive Lewis is one of the better coaches to emerge in recent times in the California youth circuit, and today is helping head up Tahoe Hockey Academy.

From there, David teamed up with a man who is one of the most insightful coaches I’ve ever met – Igor Nikulin – at LA Hockey Club. It was a cerebral match made in heaven. A curious, eager and intelligent learner paired with a veteran coach who played and studied the game at its highest levels in his native Ukraine. Like David, Nikulin began at Burbank before joining forces with James Gasseau and Andy Cohen with the then newly repurposed Los Angeles Jr. Kings in the late 1990s. He and Gasseau led the Jr. Kings to the first three AAA USAH National titles in state history in 2000, 02-03.

A brilliant tactician with a steel-trap mind that features almost other-worldly recall, Nikulin’s studious influence helped David get to where he is today. The two talked for countless hours, often during commutes in L.A. traffic. The subjects ran the gamut, but the one constant was hockey.

David has told me many times over the years his passions beyond hockey and California are learning and helping young people. To that end, David read … and read … and read … anything he could get his hands on about hockey, about coaching and about teaching.

In 2009, at age 30, David traded the warmth of California for his first junior coaching job, with the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League. The coastal Alaska outpost is a 3,500-mile-plus drive from L.A. but might as well have been a galaxy away. Sun tans were traded for occasional sun sightings.

After the Brown Bears got off to a rough start, David was promoted to interim head coach, a title that was removed the following season. He guided the downtrodden franchise to an above-.500 record over the next three seasons, including a franchise-best 31-25-4 mark during the 2011-12 campaign. All the while, he continued his education through working camps and conferences.

When newly named Dubuque coach Matt Shaw was looking to fill out his staff four years ago, he looked West, far West, and found David. Shaw, now an assistant at the University of North Dakota, had succeeded Jim Montgomery, who had won two Clark Cup titles in three years in Dubuque before winning an NCAA title in his fourth season with the Pioneers.

David continued doing what he he’d always done – listening and learning, coaching and challenging, and at least as important, investing in his players. He was retained when Shaw left for North Dakota in 2015, serving a season under Jason Lammers as associate head coach and assistant general manager.

David’s focus primary was on defense, and the early returns suggest an impressive body of work. His charges include Denver standouts Michael Davies and Blake Hillman, former Dubuque captain Keegan Ford, North Dakota’s Casey Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning draft selection Ryan Zuhlsdorf (Minnesota), and Edmonton Oilers draft selection William Lagesson (UMass-Amherst).

A year ago, David had the opportunity to go work for former NHL coach Mike Johnston in Portland. The jump to the Western Hockey League put David and his wife Denee and their two children much closer to their West Coast families. It also offered a fresh opportunity to learn more about the game from a well-respected veteran coach. During one of our conversations last offseason, the excitement in David’s voice was noticeable.

A crazy spring in college hockey opened up coaching opportunities from Omaha to Michigan to upstate New York, and several points in between. Lammers landed one of them, at Niagara University.

The Dubuque opening piqued David’s interest, and obviously the feeling was mutual.

The life-long learner and exemplary coach and leader continues his journey, climbing the ladder one patient step at a time.

From a state known for setting trends, Oliver David is at the forefront of a new one – producing high-level hockey coaches.

©Chris Bayee 2017

Californians dot NHL prospect camp rosters

Summer is a great time to go camping, particularly if you’re a hockey player. Several young players with ties to California made appearances NHL development camps in the past month or so.

Some, like Austin Ortega and Collin Delia, went to multiple camps. Most are NHL free agents, but a few were draft picks.

Here is the rundown by player of who went where.

Delia, coming off a sophomore at Merrimack College in which he went 8-12-6 with a 2.96 goals-against average, attended the Anaheim Ducks’ camp as well as the Chicago Blackhawks’ a few weeks later. The 6-foot-2 net minder is from Rancho Cucamonga and played for OC Hockey Club, the California Wave, Stars and Titans.

Ortega, who will be a senior at Nebraska-Omaha, led the NCAA in game-winning goals for the second season in a row, with eight (one season after bagging 11). He went to camp with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Escondido native, a former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Hockey Club player, has 37 and 36 points in his past two college seasons.

Goaltender Thatcher Demko, a 2014 second-round pick of the Canucks, was in camp with Vancouver after being selected a Hobey Baker finalist after his junior season at Boston College. He posted an NCAA-best 10 shutouts and won 27 games for a Frozen Four team. His gas was 1.85 and he stopped nearly 94 percent of the shots he faced.

Fellow goaltenders Merrick Madsen and Ryan Ruck also went to camps.

Madsen, a 2013 pick by Philadelphia, was again at Flyers camp, but this time the Acton native and former California Heat player went on the heels of a stellar sophomore season at Harvard. Madsen went 18-7-3 with a .931 save percentage and a 1.99 gaa to go with his four shutouts.

No goalie in NCAA hockey may have been hotter than Ruck in the second half of his freshman season, when he went 19-2-2 to help Northeastern make a run into the NCAA Tournament. Ruck, from Coto de Caza and a former net minder for OC Hockey Club and LA Hockey, attended St. Louis Blues camp.

Tyler Moy, a Harvard teammate of Madsen’s, went to Nashville’s camp. Moy had 19 points during his junior year and was a 2015 draft pick of the Predators.

Defenseman Alec McCrea, like Moy and Demko a former Jr. Gull, went to Winnipeg’s camp. McCrea had an outstanding freshman season at Cornell, leading Big Red blue liners in points with 15.

Ortega was joined at Kings camp by former LA Hockey and Medicine Hat and Portland (WHL) standout Miles Koules, who played in the ECHL this past season.

Former LA Hockey forward Dennis Kravchenko of Laguna Niguel, who put up 28 points of Massachusetts as a sophomore, went to Calgary’s camp one summer after attending the Ducks’.

Forward Robby Jackson, who had 10 goals as a freshman for St. Cloud State, went to San Jose Sharks camp near his native Oakland. Jackson played for Santa Clara, LA Hockey and the Jr. Kings growing up.

Defenseman Scott Savage, who will be a senior at Boston College and who scored a career-high 18 points this past season, attended New Jersey’s camp.

A handful of players with ties to California clubs also made appearances.

  • Forward Nolan Stevens, a one-time Jr. King, joined his college teammate Ruck in Blues camp. St. Louis selected him in June’s Entry Draft.
  • Forward Josh Wilkins, a former Jr. King, attended Hurricanes camp in his native North Carolina.
  • Goalie Evan Sarthou, a Washington native who played for LA Hockey and the LA Jr. Kings and now plays for Tri-City of the Western Hockey League, went to Arizona’s camp.
  • Power forward Adam Erne, who played two seasons with LA Hockey but is from Connecticut, was in camp with Tampa for the fourth year in a row. Erne was a second-round pick of the Lightning in 2013.

But the best prospect camp story of the summer hands-down belongs to Savage’s former LA Hockey teammate Trevor Moore. Moore not only attended Toronto’s prospect camp but played so well that the Maple Leafs signed him to an entry-level contract before his senior season at the University of Denver. Moore, an All-American in 2014-15, had 44 points to help the Pioneers reach the Frozen Four.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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

A sort of homecoming …

Just learned that two players from California and a third with a strong connection to the state will be in Anaheim and Los Angeles this week playing in NHL preseason games for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Center Colin Long (Santa Ana), a fourth-round pick of the Coyotes in 2008, will head back to the O.C. on Tuesday night and then head north to L.A. on Wednesday. Long finished his Western Hockey League career with stellar seasons of 100 and 91 points in 2007-08 and 08-09 before suffering through an injury-plagued rookie pro season in San Antonio (AHL). He had a respectable 37 points in 50 games for Las Vegas of the ECHL a season ago.

Forward Ryan Hollweg (Downey), a veteran of 228 NHL games who has spent much of the past two seasons in the AHL, also will dress for the Coyotes. Like Long, he played in the WHL.

The third is forward Brett Hextall, who is in camp with the Coyotes after three seasons at North Dakota. His father, Ron, is the Kings’ assistant general manager.

Hockey season is back …

And I’ve decided to keep this blog going.

I had considered posting everything at palmtreesandfrozenponds.com, but I’ll keep that for the hockey book.

After a season on the fringe, I’m back covering grass-roots hockey in California, and I’d like to share a few items that I’ve already submitted for October’s issue of California Rubber Hockey Magazine.

There are a lot of Californians in NHL camps as I type, including a handful who never were drafted but are trying to make the leap from either college or juniors this season.

Three have caught my attention: forward Jon Parker, forward Kyle MacKinnon and defenseman Kevan Miller.

Remarkably, Parker slipped under a lot of teams’ radar, but not the Buffalo Sabres, who invited him to camp then watched him score four points in four games in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Parker piled up the points in his third season of the WHL, tying for fifth in goals (45, with Long Beach’s Emerson Etem) and tying for 13th in points (86, to lead all players from the state).

The Solana Beach native came up through the La Jolla Jaguars, San Diego Gulls and LA Selects, where he spent three seasons being coached by Jeff Turcotte.

MacKinnon (Walnut) is one of the rare players who could finish college and play pro hockey without needing to fill out a change of address card. He was a co-captain at Providence University before signing with the Providence Bruins and scoring three points in the AHL Bruins’ final five games. Primarily a center, he scored 71 points during his college career.

Both MacKinnon and Miller are in the Boston Bruins’ main camp.

Miller, whom I’ve written about in the past, was a captain at the University of Vermont the past two seasons, and he established a reputation as a tough, reliable defender. He didn’t miss a game in his college career until his senior season, and like MacKinnon, he played a few games in Providence at the end of the season.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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.

2010 Draft Prospects from California

This is from research I did for a story that appeared in the May issue of California Rubber Hockey Magazine.

The Bible of hockey has spoken, and it spoke favorably of California’s prospects for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Three players with ties to the state are among the top 54 prospects in The Hockey News’ annual Draft Preview issue, which hit newstands and mailboxes this past week.

The three are forwards Emerson Etem (Long Beach), Beau Bennett (Gardena) and Jason Zucker (LA Selects).

Etem is the publication’s 17th-ranked prospect, Bennett its 35th and Zucker its 54th.

Etem was the eighth ranked North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Service in its final rankings after leading all Western Hockey League rookies with 37 goals (and 65 points) in 72 games for Medicine Hat. The 6-foot, 194-pound right wing played with LA Hockey’s ’92 birth year teams as well as the Jr. Ice Dogs.

Bennett led the BCHL in scoring as a rookie with 120 points (41 goals, 79 assists) in 56 games for Penticton. He was ranked 32nd by CSS. The 6-1, 180-pounder played for the Selects and the LA Jr. Kings.

Zucker was ranked 51st by CSS after helping Team USA win the World Jr. Championship. He spent the past two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program. The 5-10, 175-pound is from Las Vegas, but spent a couple of seasons playing for LA Hockey.

Here is a look at some other draft-eligible prospects from California:

C Jake Fallon (former LAHC player), Indiana of USHL
CSS Rank: 68
Key stats: The 5-10, 180-pounder split time between USNTDP U-18 team and Indiana this season

D Taylor Aronson (Placentia), Portland of the WHL
CSS Rank: 88
Key stats: The 6-1, 197-pounder had 31 points in 71 games to go with a plus-13 after a minor career with the Jr. Kings, California Wave, California Stars and Ontario Senators

D Brandon Underwood (San Marcos), Kamloops of WHL
CSS Rank: 196
Key stats: The 6-3, 210-pound former LA Jr. King and California Wave player had five points, but 128 PIMs

Others to watch
G Adam Brown (Yorba Linda), Kelowna of the WHL
Key stats: The 5-10, 165-pound stopper put together a 31-18-1-4 record with a .905 save percentage in his first full season as a starter. His six shutouts were third in the WHL, as were his 59 games played, and his 31 wins were sixth most.

F Cory Kane (Irvine), Vernon of BCHL
Key stats: The 6-3, 190-pounder had a career-high 55 points (22-33) in 60 games … has committed to Ferris State

D Matthew Konan (Tustin), Medicine Hat of WHL
Key stats: The 6-3, 182-pound blueliner had a career-high 20 points (5-15) and an impressive plus-24

C Tyler Maxwell (Manhattan Beach), Everett of WHL
Key stats: The 5-9, 179-pounder broke out with 69 points (33-36) in 72 games in his second WHL season

F Shane Sooth (Canyon Country), Texas of the NAHL
Key Stats: The 6-foot, 187-pounder finished the season with 8 points (2-6) in 12 NAHL games.

Eight more players from CA are WHL Bantam picks

Last Thursday, the WHL held its annual Bantam draft, and eight players from California were selected.

The one that most people will talk about, and rightly so, is goaltender Eric Comrie, who has been the backbone of a very, very strong LA Selects 95s team for several years. Comrie was outstanding at the recent USA Hockey Nationals and will have no shortage of opportunities to further his career. Given his family’s ties to Edmonton (his father Bill founded The Brick chain of stores) it’s not unreasonable to think he could land in the Dub.

What also was notable, at least to me, is some of the players who were not selected – specifically the Selects’ entire top line of Adam Erne, Ryan Siroky and Max Becker. In some cases, the families made it known their sons won’t play in the league. Every scout and coach I’ve talked to over the past year projects all three to be high-end players in Junior and possibly beyond.

You have to admire the Tri-City American’s approach. In addition to selecting Comrie, they picked teammates Brian Williams and Andrew Oglevie. I see a package deal as highly unlikely because linemates Williams and Oglevie strongly favor the college route.

One player who was drafted, San Diego Jr. Gulls defenseman Alec McCrea (by Regina in the 10th round), already has a relative (cousin, we think) in the WHL – forward Markus McCrea of Everett.