Can you name the all-time leading NHL scorer who was born or raised in California? No? It’s long-retired journeyman defenseman Lee Norwood of course with a total of 211 points. Coming in at number two is Brooks Orpik and his 185 career points and Orpik was raised in New York and played his developmental hockey in Massachusetts. The state of California has simply never been much of producer of hockey talent. Not for long. The grassroots movement in Southern California, fueled by the success of its three NHL rival teams, has begun to grow talent at a rate never before seen in the state or in many southern markets. Soon, California natives will be making names for themselves at the highest level.
For a while now, Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller has been the best player in the NHL both born and raised in California. The rugged blue liner from Los Angeles is 30 years old, making him more of an outlier ahead of his time. However, younger pros are beginning to line up behind him for the title of top Californian. Chad Ruhwedel, Ian McCoshen, Matthew Nieto, Beau Bennett, Nic Kerdiles, Eric Comrie and Collin Delia make up the list of other West Coast natives that are getting play time in the NHL.
The above group is still not all that impressive. The point being that the SoCal hockey movement hasn’t hit just yet. It is the next wave that will really start to turn heads. The poster boy is Vancouver Canucks top goalie prospect Thatcher Demko. The San Diego product was an early second-round pick in 2014 and has impressed at every level: the USHL, NCAA, and AHL. Once the Canucks finally give him a legitimate role in the NHL, he could become a top goalie in the league.
Demko was a product of the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, a nationwide premiere youth league with teams based in major cities across the U.S., some of whom have even adopted the local NHL club’s moniker. Demko played for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings U16 team in 2011-12. To take a look at how hockey has grown since, here are some other names who have suited up for the same team since:
- Robby Jackson, the leading scorer for St. Cloud State University, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18. Jackson turned down pro offers to return to school for his senior season.
- Jake McGrew, a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks who currently plays a top-six role for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL
- Cole Guttman, a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning and former top ten USHL scoring leader who heads to the University of Denver this year
- Murphy Stratton, a point-per-game power forward in the BCHL last year who is committed to the University of North Dakota
- Sahil Panwar, the 23rd overall pick by the London Knights in the OHL Priority Selection Draft this year and a 2020 NHL Draft prospect
While the Jr. Kings have had quite a run in recent years, the cross-town rival Anaheim Jr. Ducks have been keeping busy of late. In just the past year, the Ducks have had numerous major commitments. Josh Groll, on of the T1EHL’s top scorers last season, is bound for the University of Michigan. Ryan Johnson, who scored the second-most points by a defenseman in league history a year ago, is committed to the University of Minnesota. Just today, the University of Massachusetts received a commitment from forward Ethan Wothers. The top player to watch of them all though is Jackson Niedermayer, son of Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer, who will join the Penticton Vees of the BCHL this season and promises to be an intriguing name in next year’s NHL Draft.
This is just the beginning of what grassroots hockey may grow to be in Southern California. Beaches and year round warm weather aside, the area has everything it needs to continue to grow the game: popular NHL teams, plenty of wealth to support facilities and training, an opportunity to be noticed, and now a high level of interest among the many young athletes. Kevan Miller may want to watch out, his title of being the best Californian in the NHL might not last much longer.