Only 37 NHL players have both been born in the greatest state in the country, with Long Beach Native Matt Nieto being among them. While there have been relatively few NHL players to come out of the Golden State, Long Beach has become something of a hockey hotbed.
Well, relatively speaking. Nieto is one of two active NHL players to hail from Long Beach (Emerson Etem being the other), and while he had to leave relatively young to pursue a hockey future his family still lives in the area.
That got me to thinking about where Nieto, whose NHL career is still very young, stacks up against other players to come from California. Surprisingly, rather high. Nieto is eighth overall in games played, third in goals and fourth in points. Here’s the rest of the list.
Surprisingly, California boasts the fifth-most NHL players from the United States. Okay, so it’s only impressive if you ignore things like how many people live in California (whatever, haters).
Nieto is the first California born player drafted by the Sharks and played on a travel team with Etem, who now plays for the Vancouver Canucks. His path to the NHL eventually took him out of California after his first year of high school at Long Beach Poly. From the OCR:
Following his freshman year at Poly, he moved to Connecticut to attend the Salisbury School. It was a tough stretch, aided only by the fact that his teammate, Canyon Country’s Shane Sooth, made the move with him. But it was a move he said was one of the smartest decisions he has made.
It’s a bummer that there’s not enough of an infrastructure to allow players like NIeto to stick it out in California, but it at least shows some growth in one of the earliest Sun Belt expansion areas. Okay — so let’s rank the five best California born hockey players. I’ve got this.
No. 1 Brooks Orpik
He’s played the most games (822) and as a defender has a respectable number of points (161). Toss in that he’s from San Francisco and I’m a biased asshole and Orpik is No. 1. There you go.
No. 2 Lee Norwood
Norwood leads all California born players in points (211) and has the second-most number of games played (503). Another defender, this one from Oakland, Norwood played for seven different NHL teams (five years with the Red Wings).
No. 3 Rik Wilson
Wilson played only seven seasons (251 games) but scored 90 points as a defender. Another Long Beach Native, Wilson played most of his career with the St. Louis Blues, who drafted him 12th overall in 1980.
No. 4 Jason Zucker
While relatively young, Zucker has put together a decent start to his career. He played in 71 games last season, the most of his career, and scored 23 points. Zucker has 61 career NHL points.
No. 5 Matt Nieto
Nieto has 68 points in 205 games and has become something of a staple in the Sharks’ bottom six. There are other players who have played more games, but Nieto has done the most in a relatively large sample size and this is a biased-ass list, dammit. Sorry for swearing, Mrs. Nieto.
Next time you think of Long Beach Native Matt Nieto, remember that he’s the fifth best Californian hockey player ever according to this extremely subjective list.