Going to Quebec … and the NHL

It started with a simple request wondering if certain current NHL players had played in the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament. For those unfamiliar with the February event, it is the largest hockey tournament in the world for players ages 11-12 and regularly hosts teams from around the world.

I discovered a larger than expected group of Californians who had participated in the event went on the play at least one game in the NHL>

Numerous California teams have participated in it over the years, and several youth organizations continue to send teams, including the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Los Angeles Jr. Kings, San Diego Jr. Gulls and San Jose Jr. Sharks among others.

In the early years of the tournament, which has existed since 1960, regions of the state would assemble what were ostensibly all-star teams to play in Quebec. By the turn of the 21st Century that had shifted to specific clubs sending teams.

The high-water mark for a California team occurred in 2012 when the LA Selects 1999 team captured the AA-Elites Division. The roster included Cayla Barnes, a U.S. Women’s National U18 Team captain and Boston College commit; Brannon McManus, a Minnesota commit who is playing for Omaha in the USHL; John St. Ivany, a Yale commit who is playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL; Jake McGrew, who is playing for Spokane in the WHL; Ivan Lodnia, who is playing for Erie in the OHL; Cole Guttman, a St. Cloud State commit who is playing for Dubuque of the USHL; and Cooper Haar, who is playing for Bismarck in the NAHL.

 

Lodnia, McGrew, McManus and St. Ivany are on the 2017 NHL Entry Draft watch list.

Back to the discovery. A total of 19 players from California (or playing for California teams) who played in the Quebec have reached the NHL.

Some notables:

One player went three times – forward Rocco Grimaldi. Rocco went twice with the California Wave (2004-05) and again with Detroit Little Caesars in 2006. A 1993 birth year, he was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the second round (33rd overall) in 2011. He enjoyed a standout career at North Dakota, won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championship and made his NHL debut – at Staples Center of all places – in late 2014. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason and is scoring at a point-per-game clip in the AHL.

Six other players went twice – Richard Park (1989-90), Noah Clarke (1992-93), Beau Bennett (2003-04), and Emerson Etem, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker all in 2004-05.

  • Park was a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins (50th overall) in 1994. He played 738 NHL games, by far the most of a California-trained player. Born in Seoul, South Korea, his family moved to the South Bay when he was preschool-aged. He retired in 2014 and currently works for the Minnesota Wild.
  • Clarke was the first California-born and -trained player to play in a regular-season game for the Los Angeles Kings (on Dec. 17, 2003) and was a ninth-round pick (250th) overall in 1999. He was an NCAA standout at Colorado College and played 11 seasons of pro hockey, including 21 NHL games. He retired in 2013 and works in a family business.
  • Bennett remains the highest-drafted California player, going 20th overall in 2010 to Pittsburgh. He also became the first state native to play for a Stanley Cup winner this past spring. He was traded in the offseason to New Jersey and has played 136 NHL games over five seasons after playing two seasons at the University of Denver.
  • Etem was drafted nine spots after his former LA Hockey Club teammate in 2010 by the Anaheim Ducks after playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program and then piling up 167 goals in three WHL seasons. He has played 173 NHL games for the Ducks, Vancouver and New York Rangers. He was recently reacquired by the Ducks.
  • Nieto was picked 14 spots after Grimaldi in 2011 by the San Jose Sharks (47th overall) and has established himself in the League (210 games) in his first four seasons after three standout years at Boston University.
  • Zucker was picked in the second round (59th overall) of that 2010 draft by Minnesota and jumped right to the NHL in 2012 after two seasons at Denver. After two seasons split between the League and the AHL, he has earned a regular spot in the Wild’s lineup and has 179 NHL games under his belt.

Here is a complete list of the Californians at the Quebec tournament who have reached the NHL.

  • 1984 – Nick Vachon, LA Condors
  • 1989 – Richard Park, So. Cal Jr. Kings
  • 1990 – Richard Park, Toronto Young Nationals
  • 1992 – Noah Clarke, Ontario
  • 1993 – Noah Clarke and Garrett Stafford, California Jr. Kings
  • 1996 – Ryan Hollweg, Team California
  • 1998 – Gabe Gauthier and Brett Sterling, LA Jr. Kings
  • 1999 – Robbie Earl and Brian Salcido, LA Jr. Kings
  • 2001 – Bobby Ryan, LA Jr. Kings and Brett Sutter and Casey Wellman, San Jose Jr. Sharks
  • 2002 – Rhett Rahkshani, California Wave
  • 2003 – Beau Bennett, LA Jr. Kings
  • 2004 – Beau Bennett, Emerson Etem, Matthew Konan, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker, LA Hockey Club; Rocco Grimaldi, California Wave (6 of the 28)
  • 2005 – Emerson Etem, Matt Nieto and Jason Zucker, LA Hockey; Rocco Grimaldi, California Wave
  • 2006 – Rocco Grimaldi, Little Caesars

 

 

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!

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.

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.”

 

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.

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.’’

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

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.

Three with CA ties make U.S. WJC team

Congratulations are in order for forwards Mitch Callahan, Emerson Etem and Jason Zucker for making the U.S. World Junior Championship team on Wednesday.

The trio, as well as forwards Matt Nieto and Rocco Grimaldi, were in USA Hockey’s final evaluation camp.

Zucker, who is from Las Vegas but played a couple of seasons for the LA Selects, was a member of last season’s gold-medal-winning squad.

Etem, who led all WHL rookies in scoring last season, and Callahan, who has emerged as the Kelowna Rockets’ leading scorer this season, made it despite the presence of six returning forwards in camp.

Check back for more soon. … Also, look for a feature on the players in next month’s issue of California Rubber Magazine.