In the Pipeline: Ducks' Kerdiles Moves to Center
Nicolas Kerdiles can score. Of that, there is little doubt.
As a freshman for the University of Wisconsin in 2012-13, the Anaheim Ducks' second-round draft pick in 2012 (No. 36) collected 33 points -- 11 goals, 22 assists -- in 32 games, making him the first Badger since Joe Pavelski to average more than a point per game as a rookie.
The Badgers heated up down the stretch as Kerdiles continued to pour in the points. At season's end, the Irvine, Calif., native scored multiple points in all five Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoff games, earning himself Final Five MVP honors and his Badgers the Broadmoor Trophy as conference champions.
Now, four games into his sophomore season, Kerdiles is riding a 16-game point streak dating back to Feb. 24. He scores in wins – Kerdiles had two assists in the season-opening 5-2 victory against Northern Michigan -- and he scores in losses, assisting in a 7-3 defeat to Boston University in the team's most recent outing. He has five points in four games, which is tied for the team lead.
"I think my role on the team is to produce every game, and this just shows that I am," Kerdiles told NHL.com. "But I think being consistent is one of my roles also, and it's good for my confidence to consistently be putting up points."
Asked what he thought of Kerdiles' point streak, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves echoed his player's sentiment.
"Nic expects that of himself," Eaves said. "We've got other players on the team that are in the same boat. It's part of their skill set. They should be on the score sheet every night."
And Eaves should know: The longtime Wisconsin coach and former player scored in 21 straight games in 1977-78, which is still a Badgers record.
When the Anaheim Ducks drafted Kerdiles -- a hometown kid who grew up 20 minutes from Honda Center -- the organization knew they were getting a player with natural gifts. Kerdiles possesses skating ability, a power forward's frame, vision on the ice and a scoring touch. So while a point-per-game collegiate career is an encouraging sign, it's not necessarily a surprising one.
Nor is it enough, according to Anaheim's Director of Player Development Todd Marchant, to pencil Kerdiles into the Ducks roster in the future.
"I think if you look across the board at the NHL teams, certain fourth-line guys if you look back at their college stats or junior stats, they were all point producers," Marchant said. "What I tell my young players is, no matter what you do offensively, that's a bonus, that's great, but you have to be well-rounded."
Kerdiles knows this too. After proving as a freshman that he could score on a consistent basis, the 19-year-old is hoping to spend this season bringing that same consistency to all parts of his game.
It started this summer. In addition to Ducks' rookie camp and his obligations at the United States junior evaluation camp, Kerdiles focused on his physique, his faceoffs and his one-timers. All three are critical to the transition he made from wing to second-line center – and special-teams mainstay – this season.
"There's a lot of responsibility that the center has [in our system]," Eaves said. "We've just found that to give a young freshman that responsibility is little overwhelming. Putting Nic in the middle [this season] is based on his growth and understanding of what we want to get done."
Eaves noted that current NHL centers Pavelski and Derek Stepan also played on the wing for at least their first semester at Wisconsin, so Kerdiles, who played center prior to college, finds himself in good company.
As his team's pivot, Kerdiles will often be the only forward in his team's zone and will need the physicality to match his new defensive mindset.
"I think that's a necessity when you're trying to make that jump to the next level," said Kerdiles, who officially checks in at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. "You've eventually got to be a certain weight, you've gotta feel comfortable on your skates and playing against big, strong men."
For Marchant, developing physically is one of the major advantages of the college hockey route.
"The unfortunate thing for a college hockey player is they can't come to training camp," Marchant said. "That's the negative. But the positive is [college] gives you the chance to develop physically. They have a lot of time to do the off-ice training and get developed physically."
When he wasn't in the weight room, Kerdiles was shooting pucks. He stuck around Madison and took summer courses, and he and a teammate would hit the rink each morning before class. He shot around 150 pucks each morning, mostly one-timers he will deploy from his position on the weak side of the Badgers' power play.
Kerdiles told NHL.com that along with a quicker and more effective release, his development on the defensive side will be key to his and his team's success this season.
"As a centerman, you're usually back in the defensive zone and you're using a little more energy being down there defensively," Kerdiles said. "The defensive responsibilities are a little different because college is a big step up and the guys are that much better. So getting into that defensive zone mentally, staying on the right side of my guy and having good body position with him."
Well-rounded forward play, which includes a heavy dose of defense, is something Marchant thinks is key to success in the NHL.
"Coaches in the NHL, if you're good defensively, they'll find a way to get you in the lineup and get you ice time," Marchant said. "I don't care whether you score 50 goals. I want you to be a good defensive player as well. That alone will get you into more conversations."
For now at least, the only conversation Kerdiles is worried about is the one surrounding the NCAA title. It's why Kerdiles came to Wisconsin, where the Badgers entered the campaign ranked in the top three of multiple preseason polls based on the strong finish of players like Kerdiles a season ago.
"I think that my success translates to how well the team does," Kerdiles said. "I think we have the team to go out and win a national championship and if go out there and do what we're supposed to do, we have that opportunity."