NHL opportunities knocking

NHL.com (whether knowingly or not) highlighted two California hockey players who forever will be linked by their draft year (2010), their round (first) and their backgrounds playing for the now-defunct LA Hockey Club.

Forward Beau Bennett, taken 20th overall in ’10, is making a strong push to remain in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, according the league’s website. Unfortunately, the story did not make the California connection, though plenty of other ones have.

NHL.com also weighed in on Emerson Etem‘s growing role with the Ducks, and make no mistake, it is growing. Interesting to read NHL Network analysts Kevin Weekes‘ take on working out with Etem when Etem was just 13. The accolades Etem receives for his work ethic are justified (as I’ve witnessed those workouts in Venice), as are the ones about his upbeat attitude.

That is something else Bennett and Etem, share – phenomenal, team-first attitudes and a truly grateful outlook for all the sport has given them (and undoubtedly will give them).

But they’ve got company from California this season.

In the past month, two defenseman have made their debuts and both will be profiled in the upcoming issue of California Rubber Magazine.

Matt Tennyson made his first NHL appearance on April 1 and has played three games, picking up two assists. Though he played just a few seasons for the San Jose Jr. Sharks growing up, his family now calls California home. Tennyson was part of a large group of players I affectionately termed the Cali-mazooans, who played for Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That group included Brett Beebe, Garrett Haar, Chase Balisy, Dennis Brown, Robert Francis and J.J. Crew. Tennyson signed with the Sharks last spring and has spent most of this season in the AHL.

And lastly but not least is defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whom I spoke to this week for a story. As with the other three, Ruhwedel was a delight to speak with. Unlike the other three, Ruhwedel jumped directly from college to the NHL through a whirlwind of events last week.

Consider that last Thursday (April 10), he was playing in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh against eventual champion Yale. Less than 36 hours later, the smooth-skating defenseman was on his way to Buffalo for a physical, to sign his contract, get his gear and play in an afternoon game, which the Sabres won.

All of this for a player who spent exactly one season playing AAA hockey in California (for the Jr. Kings) and only a handful playing AA growing up in San Diego county.

This is the first time the state has had four players make NHL debuts in a single season, to say nothing of the fact that 40 percent of said season was lost due to a lockout.

Congratulations to these four!

Californians at NHL prospects camps

Several recent NHL draftees from California have been attending prospects camps during the past week, and several were noted on various team sites.

On the New York Islanders’ site, forward Rhett Rakhshani of Huntington Beach is mic-ed up for some of the scrimmage video highlights (Day 3). If one looks carefully, you can spot the Denver University product behind John Tavares on the camp opening page. Rakhshani, incidentally, has been selected DU’s captain for the upcoming season.

Forward Colin Long of Santa Ana is quoted several times throughout coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes’ camp on the team’s web site. Long served as captain for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League this past season, and the Rockets came within one game of winning the Memorial Cup.

The Edmonton Oilers have a nice video interview with defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland on their prospects camp coverage. Bigos addresses a variety of topics, including winning the RBC Cup and his college choice of Merrimack.

And the Detroit Red Wings have a nice feature on forward Mitch Callahan on their site. Callahan went from being a walk-on player at Kelowna’s camp to a sixth-round draft choice in one year!

California’s NHL prospects

Several players with California ties remain in NHL training camps:

Anaheim Ducks – Defenseman Brian Salcido and winger Bobby Ryan

Atlanta – Winger Brett Sterling

Colorado – Defenseman Raymond Macias

Dallas – Forward Landon Wilson and defenseman Garrett Stafford

Detroit – Defenseman Chris Chelios

LA Kings – Center Gabe Gautheir

Nashville – Defenseman Jonathon Blum

New Jersey – Forward Ryan Murphy

NY Islanders – Right wing Richard Park

Toronto – Forwards Ryan Hollweg and Robbie Earl

Notable: Earl scored a goal in Toronto’s 7-4 victory over Buffalo on Monday night. … Gauthier played in the Kings’ 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Monday night. It was the first NHL game held in the new Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. … Detroit returned defenseman Cameron Cepek (Huntington Beach) to Prince George of the Western Hockey League. Cepek, a 2006 Montreal draft choice, had been in Red Wings camp as a free agent.