Nicolas Kerdiles figures to be a safe pick at the NHL draft, perhaps in the best sense of the word.
In a season when the U.S. under-18 team was more about defencemen with likely top-10 NHL picks Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones leading their back end, Kerdiles was one of squad's foremost forwards. The Californian had a team-high nine points for Team USA at the IIHF under-18 championship, helping it retain its gold medal for the fourth consecutive year. While one sometimes has to be wary of overrating good-sized forwards who put up points in smaller junior hockey ponds, he had a good year with 42 points in 50 games against a schedule that included games against the USHL and college teams.
Whoever drafts Kerdiles, NHL Central Scouting's 29th-ranked North American skater, is getting a player with a winning pedigree. He also helped the U.S. win the 2011 world under-18 crown.
"We finished off strong, the way we wanted so that gold medal really helped end off our year," says Kerdiles, who's from Irvine, Calif., a hour south of Los Angeles. "As an individual, I felt I did well for my team and produced throughout the whole season ... I think this second one really meant a lot because I won it with my actual team, the guys I was with for two years."
The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Kerdiles faced some cultural adjustment after leaving Southern California to join the U.S. national development program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Moving around was hardly new to him since he was born in the Dallas area and also lived in Paris until he was seven and his father's work took him to SoCal. Besides, hockey is hockey. Kerdiles, who's joining the Wisconsin Badgers next season, could be an attractive draft option for a NHL team which is willing to let draft picks progress steadily over a couple seasons in the NCAA.
"I consider myself a two-way power forward with above-average speed and skills," he says. "I like to play in the dirty areas on the ice."
1. When you start to break the game down into sports, what are some specific parts you wish to work on?
"One part is just simplifying my game. I tend to overcomplicate it sometimes and run myself into trouble. Not overhandling the puck, just making the simple play, I think that's what I have to work on."
2. What was the adjustment from Southern California to Ann Arbor like?
"It's different, for sure. The weather is unpredictable in Michigan while it's consistent with warm weather in California. It was a good experience for me, though. I got used to the winters, though. I had a blast. This second winter wasn't as bad but the first was pretty long. I wasn't used to it with my car."
3. As a fluent French speaker, have you thought about being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens?
"That'd be a honour because they're such a great organization. My French speaking skills could help out there, maybe the fans would like that ... I talk to my parents in French all the time over the phone, so that helps keep it sharp."
4. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely in order to get an idea of what you'll need to do at the next level?
"Ryan Kesler, by far. He plays a two-way, power forward position and he plays in the gritty areas and has speed and skill."
5. Hockey players have to be very strict with nutrition but no one is an angel — so what's your guilty pleasure, snack or drink?
"I tend to have a chocolate bar once in a while. Being a French kid, growing up in Paris, I tended to have chocolate after my dinner. It was guilty pleasure."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.