CALIFORNIA HOCKEY SHOWCASED AS LOS ANGELES HOSTS FIRST ENTRY DRAFT
LOS ANGELES (June 24, 2010) – The NHL Entry Draft coming to California for the first time is the latest milestone for the growth of hockey in the Golden State.
The Los Angeles Kings and California Seals brought the NHL here in 1967, but it can be said that hockey really didn’t arrive in California until Aug. 9, 1988, the day of Wayne Gretzky’s monumental trade to the Kings. In their first season with Gretzky, the Kings improved from 68 points to 91, and won a playoff series for the first time since 1982. In 1990-91, they won the only division title in club history and finished with 102 points. Two seasons later, they had their magical run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.
More than 20 years later, the reverberations of the Gretzky Trade still can be seen at this year’s Entry Draft.
Medicine Hat Tigers right wing Emerson Etem, No. 8 on NHL Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters, grew up in nearby Long Beach. Five players in Central Scouting’s top 100 North American skaters hail from the Golden State — Etem; No. 32 Beau Bennett of Torrance (Penticton, BCHL); No. 51 Jason Zucker of Newport Beach (US Under-18, USHL); No. 68 Jacob Fallon of Riverside (Indiana, USHL); and No. 88 Taylor Aronson of Placentia (Portland, WHL).
Those five are one more than hockey-centric Massachusetts (four) and just one fewer than Michigan (six).
Rancho Santa Margarita native Jonathan Blum became the first California-born and -trained first-round draft pick when the Nashville Predators took him No. 23 in the 2007 Entry Draft, and California players have dotted the draft list over the last few years. Etem, who is expected to go in the top 15, could replace Blum as the highest-drafted California-born player.
“Wayne’s influence created a demand for ice time,” said Pat Brisson, a Los Angeles-based agent who represents top NHL players like Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. “I saw it firsthand. I was here. Youth hockey took off. … And now you see kids born in 1990, 1991, ’92 or ’93 in L.A. are now going to come into the NHL draft because of what Wayne did.”
Over time, more and better ice facilities were built, and youth hockey, which had been a near non-entity, began taking off. According to USA Hockey, there were 8,094 youth players (through 18 years old) registered in California for the 2009-10 season. Another 12,310 adults were registered through USA Hockey.
The Los Angeles Jr. Kings have 16 teams under their umbrella and are now members of the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, which is scouted heavily by the USHL and top collegiate programs in the U.S. The Anaheim Junior Ducks have 14 teams under their umbrella and the San Jose Junior Sharks have 16 teams.