By Kirk Luedeke
wild·card or wild card (wldkärd)
n. - an unpredictable element in a situation
|U.S. NTDP forward Nic Kerdiles (Getty Images)|
The more you discover about U.S. NTDP forward Nicolas Kerdiles, the more interesting a subplot develops around him as we get closer to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh June 22-23.
Even without the intrigue surrounding his skill and potential at the NHL level, Kerdiles has a fascinating back-story as the American son of French parents, born in the USA, but split in his raising between France and his native United States.
With under a month to go before he will find out where a possible big league future will come into focus, the talk surrounding Kerdiles is with his obvious reward factor, with some risk sprinkled in as well.
“I guess it would depend on what night you see him, but Nic Kerdiles is a real wild card for me,” an NHL scout told New England Hockey Journal recently. “He can skate, shoot and score. He has nice size. When he puts everything together, Kerdiles is a force. But, I wonder about his willingness to play a physical game and there are nights when he wasn’t all that involved. You wonder which player you’re going to get in any given game.”
That element of unpredictability is why draft rankings are split over a player who came into the season looking like a surefire first-round candidate.
“I would imagine there are teams that give him a solid grade somewhere in the top-30,” the scout said. “He has the tools to be a top-six forward, but there are questions about the consistency, too.”
There aren’t many who question the 6-feet-1, 200-pound wing’s natural abilities, though scouts are divided as to what his ultimate offensive upside will be at the next level. He has a live athletic frame with a little more room to add weight and mass. Kerdiles also has a powerful skating stride and the agility to get around defenders. His vision, passing and shot are all effective, though he isn’t dynamic in any particular area. This is where the questions about whether his ultimate role in pro hockey come in: is the USA winger a legitimate top-six, and if not, can he adjust his approach and physical dimension to be an effective defensive forward?
Working in Kerdiles’ favor is the fact that he made the U.S. Under-18 team that won gold in Germany a year ago at age 17, one of three Under-17 team members to skate for that squad (Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones). A year later, he was part of the Under-18 club that captured a fourth consecutive championship for Team USA.
“I’m a speedy power forward who can bring offensive skill to my team,” Kerdiles said. “I play in the gritty areas, too. I think I’m pretty good on the cycle and in puck possession and can score, too.”
A standout scorer with the L.A. Selects major midget program, scoring 65 goals and 121 points two years ago, Kerdiles joined the U.S. NTDP and made an instant impact with 17 goals in 40 games, good for third on the club behind Ryan Hartman (22) and East Longmeadow, Mass. native Frank Vatrano (19).
“Coming in as a 16-year-old, I was playing against guys in the USHL who were 18 or 19, so it was a lot different than expected,” he said. “As a team, we had to take our lumps, lose more games than we won. It was more of a learning experience for us, but we were able to adapt to the level of play.
“In the transition to the Under-18 (team), we were playing against DU to BU to Wisconsin, and we were able to hold up pretty well. That’s what the program gives you—as our team got bigger and more experienced—we were able to handle ourselves against some pretty good teams in the NCAA as well as the USHL.”
A strong performance in Brno, Czech Republic by Kerdiles back in April has put his stock on an upward trajectory. He netted a pair of goals in USA’s smackdown of Team Sweden in the championship match, and showed the kind of big game, clutch play that you want in a top pick.
Kerdiles and his ability to establish himself as a key factor in his teams’ success over two years in Ann Arbor is why he’s earned the respect from his peers on those Team USA squads.
“He’s a good, hard-working forward,” said teammate Kyle Osterberg, a University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit and forward. “That’s nice to have on your line because he can bury the puck. He always is in the zone and prepares well.”
When Kerdiles is on his game, he’s a tough player to defend, as teammate Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) discovered in myriad practices over their two years together. Grzelcyk also counts Kerdiles as one of his closest friends on the team.
“He’s a great competitor and always seems to be in the right place at the right time,” Grzelcyk told New England Hockey Journal. “You an always count on him in big games, as you can see by our gold medal game versus Sweden.”
The University of Wisconsin recruit was born in Lewisville, Texas (near Dallas) to Michel and Nathalie Kerdiles during the Dallas Stars’ inaugural season after that team’s move from Minneapolis. His father was in medical equipment sales, a job that took him to the U.S. from Europe, even though neither parent had real ties to the country. Kerdiles’ dad is from France, while his mother is a native of Montreal and the two met in college. Both of Nic’s sisters were born in Paris, with the family’s son being the only American in the bunch.
Kerdiles was an infant when his family left Texas to return to France, but the family moved out to California when he was about eight. That transition began his lifelong love affair with hockey, though he was not necessarily a fan of the nearby Kings or Ducks as a youngster.
“I was a Dallas Stars fan because of Mike Modano,” said Kerdiles. “I loved the way he skated and moved the puck with hard, crisp passes. He had such a great shot and just loved the game. You could see it in the way he played.”
In today’s game, Kerdiles is drawn to the majesty of Sidney Crosby’s offensive prowess, and the young draft candidate also looks up to New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise for his skill and professionalism as well.
When the Kerdiles clan travels to Pittsburgh this month for the NHL draft, there will be no shortage of story lines following the Franco-American and two-time gold medal-winner at the World Under-18 tournament. Having made his last effort at the NHL’s Scouting Combine to convince the clubs he interviewed with that he’s more of a solid bet than a wild card, Kerdiles can now turn his attention to the event he’s dreamed of.
“I’m excited for the draft,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going out to the University of Wisconsin this summer to get started on my NCAA career. Everything is coming together, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can and then get back to work.”