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by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
Columbus, OH - Defenseman Jonathon Blum, born in Long Beach, Calif., was selected 23rd overall by the Nashville Predators, becoming the first California-born prospect to be drafted in the First Round of the NHL Entry Draft. 56K

“This is a really good thing for California hockey,” Blum said. “It gives guys hope. It puts it in their minds that they can do it, that they can be here in five or 10 years.

“The game is really growing [in California].”

The statistics support what the 6-0, 160-pound blueliner suggests.

Since 2001, only five states (Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and Illinois), have had more players selected than the 15 California-born prospects that have been plucked from the Golden State.

A statistic that the 18-year-old Blum is proud of.

“California kids used to get bypassed,” he said. “They use to think Californians are soft, but that is changing.”

Blum (6-0, 160) is a big reason for the change, as he is regarded as one of the top young defensemen in the world. Central Scouting had him ranked 17th amongst skaters and his scouting report says the following:

A mobile, heads up defenseman… makes smart decisions with the puck and has high-end passing ability… has good positioning and very rarely gets beat… effective on special teams and very patient with the puck… needs to get tougher along the boards and improve his physical presence.

Blum's dad, originally from Omaha, Neb., sparked an interest in hockey and Blum even speaks of having season tickets to the Anaheim Bull Frogs, a now defunct roller hockey team that played its games at the Honda Center.

Ironically enough, Blum’s road to the NHL started on exactly that, a road, as Blum started his hockey career on the streets of So Cal, playing roller hockey.

“I just used to play pick up games with the kids on the street. It was just a hobby playing roller hockey,” he recalls. “It took a while before I asked myself if this was really what I wanted to do.”

Along with that decision came commitment, as Blum began spending much of his life playing travel hockey, joining the California Wave, a touring minor league team.

While playing for the Wave, Blum had to deal with personal tragedy, as his twin sister, Ashley, was killed in a 2004-house fire started by a gas leak. One year later, Blum’s mother, Dana, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Somehow Blum was able to keep his focus on the ice and his play with the Wave got the attention of the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, attending his first training camp with the Giants at the young age of 15.

In his first year in Vancouver, Blum scored 7-17=24 in 61 games as a rookie in the WHL, even seeing action in the postseason, tallying 1-8=9 in 18 games played.

“When I got drafted by Vancouver I decided that this was something that I really wanted to do.”

He trumped those numbers last season ranking seventh among WHL blueliners and first amongst draft-eligible defensemen, scoring 51 points in 72 games (8-43=51), while adding 3-6=9 in 22 games played, helping the Giants to the Memorial Cup.

And now he is the Nashville Predator’s first round pick.

“We have 15 people here at the draft and we’re all enjoying it,” Blum said late Friday. “My family is excited for me.”

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