It was only five months ago that history was made during the NHL Entry Draft when two California-born players -- Emerson Etem
of Long Beach and Beau Bennett
of Gardena -- were chosen in the opening round at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It didn't signal the apocalypse, but it sure did send a message that the Golden State was becoming a bona fide breeding ground for future NHL talent. In August, at the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled by G Series in Toronto, there was another batch of top-flight West Coast talent on display.
Forwards Shane McColgan
of Manhattan Beach and Matthew Nieto
of Long Beach skated on the same line in Toronto for veteran coach Ken Hitchcock. Both have high hopes of following in the footsteps of their good friends Etem and Bennett as first-round selections in the 2011 Draft in St. Paul, Minn.
What they've already learned is reaching the NHL no longer is a pipe dream for those born along the Pacific Coast.
"It would be a dream ... I just got chills right now thinking about it," McColgan, a right wing for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, told NHL.com. "Seeing my friends get drafted really high was motivation for me. I just can't imagine what it would feel like."
NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire is glad to see so many players from California being rewarded for their hard work.
"Beau and Emerson started a flood, but my question is, 'How do you learn to skate so well on Manhattan Beach?'" McGuire said. "McColgan is quite a player and I think any doubters that would say anything about his size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) only have to see him play once or twice in the Western Hockey League -- he's playing in a league with plenty of credibility."
True enough. But in addition to an incredible skill set, McColgan has proven to be quite the watchdog. During one game with Kelowna last season, he wasn't too fond of the way a teammate was treated by a 6-1, 196-pound defenseman from the Vancouver Grizzles -- Kevin Connauton
So, he did something about it.
"That guy's playing for the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League now," McColgan said. "But I pride myself on that. I'm a good team guy and if I see a cheap shot and no one else on the ice will do something, then I'll step up. I'm a competitive guy and not afraid of anyone, so if they're going to run around and be idiots out there ... it's not my job but I'll step up."
McColgan was the only U.S.-born player selected in the first round of the 2008 WHL bantam draft, and while that's a special feat, it's not something he's ready to claim as his defining moment.
"That was a cool moment, but that's not the main goal," he said. "The main goal is to be in the NHL."
The first step in that process is to be drafted and, barring a drastic setback, that goal will be achieved June 24, the opening night of the 2011 Draft.
McColgan had a memorable 2009-10 campaign in Kelowna, totaling 25 goals and 69 points in 71 games on the way to finishing runner-up to Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(24 goals and 65 points in 67 games) as WHL Rookie of the Year.
Quite an accomplishment for someone deemed too small to succeed.
"Getting top rookie would have been a nice accomplishment, but it's just more motivation to dominate this coming season," McColgan said. "I'm not the biggest guy, but I'm sure you saw during the (RDO) camp I like mixing it up with bigger guys and won't back down."
Through six games with Kelowna in 2010-11 -- he missed three games to have his tonsils removed -- he has a goal, 6 assists and a minus-3 rating.
McColgan admitted attending the 2010 Draft at Staples Center in Los Angeles was a great experience.
"I was pretty fortunate to go there with my agent, and seeing Beau and Emerson drafted gave me that motivation to have a great season this year and be up on that stage next year," he said. "I really do feel the Wayne Gretzky
trade to Los Angeles boosted hockey in this area. Over the next couple of years, you'll see some good kids coming up and I'm really looking forward to seeing them. As it is now, we're competing with Canadians and other countries and it's nice to know California is playing a part."
McColgan actually played defense for four years before being moved to forward when he turned 12.
"My coach for the L.A. Hockey Club and Selects (Sandy Gasseau) was the one who moved me to forward in my bantam year," McColgan said. "People think (size) is a factor but it doesn't faze me when I'm out there. I just look at players like Zach Parise
, Patrick Kane
and Martin St. Louis
and the success they have had. They provide the motivation -- if they can do it, I can do it."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale