California prospect update: Cole Guttman

What NHL fan wouldn’t want to watch the annual Entry Draft in late June?

That was the position California’s Cole Guttman found himself in on June 24, but there was a catch. The Northridge native said he had an idea that there was a chance his name might appear on the draft ticker at some point.

Cole Guttman 2017Sure enough, the intuition of the former LA Selects and LA Jr. Kings center was correct. The Tampa Bay Lightning called his name in the sixth round, 180th overall, despite his absence on some of the major scouting lists entering the draft.

Guttman’s rookie season for Dubuque in the United States Hockey League is tough to overlook. He scored 54 points, equal parts goals and assists, in 53 regular-season games, and he tacked on four more points in six playoff games. And his two-way game is respectable as he checked in with a plus-21. One rival coach told as I was researching California Rubber Magazine‘s all-California Junior Team that Guttman had a mature game.

He also has a mature approach, something his teammates and coaches in Dubuque (and earlier in L.A.) acknowledged when they voted him to wear a letter during his rookie season. Next season he will be the Fighting Saints’ captain under recently hired coach Oliver David, another Golden Stater.

Guttman’s excitement at being selected in the Entry Draft was heightened by seeing good friends from his youth hockey days, Jake McGrew (sixth round, San Jose) and Vanya Lodnia (third round, Minnesota) getting picked on the same day. In all, five members of California’s 2009 Brick team, those three plus Jason Robertson (second round, Dallas) and Sasha Chmelevski (sixth round, San Jose) were picked. And a sixth – Minnesota recruit Brannon McManus, whose Chicago Steel team won the USHL’s Clark Cup – very well could have been.

In addition, Guttman, McGrew, Lodnia and McManus helped the Selects win the elite division of the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament in 2012, along with Boston College commit Cayla Barnes, John St. Ivany, Cooper Haar and others.

Guttman, who has committed to play at St. Cloud State beginning in fall 2018, took time recently to speak with me about being selected in the draft, what his first pro prospect camp was like and his California ties.

 

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California prospect update: Jake McGrew

It’s not hard to believe Jake McGrew would be drafted by an NHL team. Anyone who saw him play growing up knew the Orange native had a blend of power, speed and skill that would translate well into higher levels of hockey.

Indeed, the 1999 birth year was a strong bet to play a regular role for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League until he blew out a knee during the first practice of the regular season.

Still, the San Jose Sharks had scouted him twice during the preseason and saw enough to make him an early sixth-round pick, 159th overall.

Though he’s back skating, he wasn’t able to fully participate in the Sharks’ prospects camp this week. He is, however, highly motivated to return stronger than ever, as he told me in this recent interview before prospects camp.

 

©Chris Bayee 2017

Nine players with California ties left unprotected for NHL expansion draft

A total of nine players with ties to California were left unprotected by the NHL teams holding their rights in advance of Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft to stock the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster and system.

What follows is a closer look at them and their chances of staying put or making travel arrangements for the desert.

Forwards Emerson Etem and Nic Kerdiles, Anaheim Ducks: Etem returned to the franchise after stops in New York and Vancouver and played three games in Anaheim and one in San Diego before an injury ended his season. … After recovering from a concussion, Kerdiles made his NHL debut and then played four playoff games for the Ducks after the Gulls’ season ended. In between, he was one of San Diego’s better scorers, getting 15 points in 27 regular-season games and eight more in eight playoff games.

What’s next? Etem offers lineup versatility, speed and a scoring touch. Once healthy, the restricted free agent probably is going to camp on a two-way contract – with Anaheim or someone else. … Kerdiles signed a one-year contract on Saturday and might figure into the Ducks’ plans next season. He also can play on any line. … With all of the defensemen the Ducks exposed it’s highly unlikely either is taken by Vegas.

Defenseman Matt Tennyson, Carolina Hurricanes: Just 27, the big blue liner played in a career-high 45 NHL games this season and nine more in the AHL.

What’s next: He’s proven he can handle the rigors of the NHL game and has a good shot to play somewhere full-time. If Vegas passes on goalie Cam Ward, I see Tennyson as a very strong candidate to get picked. The unrestricted free agent wouldn’t cost much and he can either step into the Golden Knights’ lineup or be a leader for their AHL team and with NHL plug-and-play capability.

Forward Mitch Callahan, Detroit Red Wings: Tough and skilled, Callahan heads into unrestricted free agency for the first time this offseason. And his timing could not have been better. In addition to playing four more games with Detroit, he nearly set a career-high in points (43) and added 16 goals for Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids. He was one of the Griffins’ best players in the postseason, added 16 more points in 19 games.

What’s next: He’s done about all you can in the AHL, and at just 25, it’s time for him to get a shot at a regular NHL job, whether in Detroit, Vegas or elsewhere. His UFA status might work against him the way the expansion rules are set up (Vegas can sign up to five UFAs). But he would make some sense for a cash- or prospect-strapped team to sign.

Defenseman Taylor Aronson, Nashville Predators: The Predators still own his rights despite him spending this past season playing in Russia with Tolyatti Lada, where he had 15 points in 51 games.

What’s next: He won’t be taken, not with the bevy of young, skilled forwards the Predators had to expose.

Forwards Beau Bennett and Shane Harper, New Jersey Devils: Bennett, the highest drafted Californian ever (20th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010), played in a career-high 65 games and posted career bests in goals (eight) and points (19). Still, given how starved for offense New Jersey was and talented Bennett is, it’s a head scratcher he didn’t play on a scoring line or on the power play. … Harper made his NHL debut in his seventh season of pro hockey with Florida and played 14 games for the Panthers before he was traded to New Jersey’s organization. He has elite speed and, like Bennett, excellent hockey sense.

What’s next: Expansion teams typically need offense, and Bennett could be a good, low-cost option to provide some. Just 25, his upside remains considerable. Still, the Devils also exposed defensemen Jon Merrill and Ben Lovejoy as well as a couple of backup goalie options, so it’s less likely – though not impossible – the restricted free agent is picked. … Harper is unrestricted and could help a team looking for speed and lineup versatility with a bit of scoring touch.

Forward Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators: The former LA Jr. King is one of the biggest names out there for the taking, but there is a case against taking him if you’re Vegas. For one, Ryan had his worst season (25 points). For another, he’s 30 and he ‘s under contract for five more seasons at $7.25 million per. Still, he is an elite talent and capable of scoring 30-plus goals per season, and there aren’t many of those anywhere in the NHL, much less on the expansion list. He also seemed revitalized by Ottawa’s deep playoff run, scoring 15 points (several big goals among them) in 19 games.

What’s next: I don’t see Vegas picking him, though it wouldn’t be the worst idea if it did. The belief here is the Senators exposed too many good defenseman for the Golden Knights to pass on one of them.

Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Ruhwedel is another player who could not have timed his best season any better. Not only did the unrestricted free agent to be become the second native Californian (after Bennett) on a Stanley Cup-winning team, but he played 34 regular-season games (getting 10 points) for that champion and six more in the postseason. He added 16 points in 28 AHL games.

What’s next: With Marc-Andre Fleury, Ian Cole, Brandon Rust and Nick Bonino on the Penguins’ expansion list, Ruhwedel won’t get picked by Vegas, but he will be an attractive option for teams looking for a fast, skilled and responsible defenseman in the $1-2 million person range. He could very well make the leap to full-time NHLer next season.

Click here for a look at the five players with California ties who were placed on the protected expansion draft lists.

©Chris Bayee 2017

Five players with California ties protected on NHL expansion lists

It says something about the caliber of hockey talent California is producing that five players with ties to the state were protected by their respective NHL teams when the teams were required to submit lists of players exempted from Wednesday’s expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here is a closer look at the five:

Defenseman Kevan Miller, Boston Bruins: That the Bruins kept Miller as one of three protected blue liners over veteran Adam McQuaid and younger players Colin Miller (a former Kings prospect when was part of the Martin Jones deal) and Joe Morrow says something about how far Miller has come and how much Boston values him. Miller was a plus player on a so-so defensive team and added 13 points in 58 games. He is under contract for three more seasons at $2.5 million per.

Forwards Rocco Grimaldi and Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche: Though it’s sometimes hard to tell what the Avs are trying to do, it appears the youth movement is on and these two will be part of it. Grimaldi was one of the top players in the American Hockey League this past season. His 31 goals were tied for third in the league and just two behind the AHL leader, and more than twice as many as any teammate. He added a team-high 55 points, 20 more than the next player in San Antonio. … Colorado added Nieto on a waiver claim from San Jose, and he played most nights after that. Though his 13 points were a career low, he’s just 24 and boasts plenty of speed and skill. Both players are restricted free agents, and I would expect both to be in Colorado full-time next season.

Defenseman Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings: The former Santa Clara Blackhawk and San Jose Jr. Shark had his best offensive season (39 points) for a fairly dismal offense in LA. He’s one of the Kings’ core players and is signed for four more seasons at $4 million per. He is a frequently mentioned trade target, and it’s not hard to see why he’d be in demand.

Forward Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: The arrow also is pointing up for the former LA Select, who put up a career-best 22 goals and 47 points for a playoff team. Part of that was staying healthy, he played in a career-high 79 games. The Las Vegas native has been infamously linked to the expansion team since it was announced, but his blend of speed and skill are is tailor-made for today’s NHL. He is under contract for one more season at $2 million … before he more than doubles that amount next summer.

Click here for a closer look at the nine players with California ties left unprotected for this week’s expansion draft

©Chris Bayee 2017

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

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

 

 

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.