by Kinsey Janke || for NHL.com
If you trace it back a few years, Nic Kerdiles’ timeline to the ice seems pretty standard.
A stint with the U.S. National Team Development Program, a few international appearances for the United States, some college hockey, and now his rookie season in the American Hockey League with the Norfolk Admirals after his first National Hockey League training camp in September.
But before all that, before the call to the USNTDP, before going 36th overall to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2012 NHL Draft, Kerdiles’ road to professional hockey began 20 minutes from the Honda Center on a suburban street in Irvine, Calif., with a neighbor who needed an extra in a game of roller hockey.
Kerdiles, 20, was born in Lewisville, Texas, to French and French-Canadian parents, and spent his first seven years living in France. A move to southern California didn’t have the beginnings of a professional hockey career written all over it, but when the game wants you, it will eventually find you.
“For the longest time, it was just kind of where the next game would take me,” he said. “I didn’t have the most confidence that I was going to make it to where I wanted to be one day. I think the U.S. team was the first time where I really instilled some confidence in myself and thought that there is a chance.”
Kerdiles spent two seasons with the USNTDP, winning gold with the U.S. in the 2011 IIHF World U-18 Championships before committing to play college hockey with the Big Ten heavyweight University of Wisconsin. The time with the Badgers was integral to his development.
“I had two great years there playing with older people and playing with men,” he said. “I think the fact that I was playing against guys that were big and strong in college and I was 18 – that really helped my transition into playing in the AHL.”
Kerdiles put up 71 points in 60 NCAA games with the Badgers, and represented the U.S. once more, this time with the U-20 World Junior squad, before making the transition to the pro ranks after his sophomore season.
Making his professional debut with Norfolk last spring, Kerdiles netted a goal and three assists in six regular-season games and helped the eighth-seeded Admirals reach the second round of the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs with three goals and one assist in 10 postseason outings, all without missing a beat.
“I think he’s taking it in stride. He’s been very coachable,” said Norfolk head coach Jarrod Skalde. “He appreciates the lessons that he’s learned so far. For me, it’s great having Nic here because he wants to get better and he wants to learn.”
Though Kerdiles considers himself a natural center, he’s been fluctuating between center and the wing throughout most of his hockey career and has spent most of the young 2014-15 season on the wing with Norfolk. Skalde points out Kerdiles’ offensive abilities and his work ethic, and that regardless of position, the 20-year-old always seems to have a “nose for the net.”
“That’s the type of player I am. Skate fast, play hard, and go to the dirty areas,” said Kerdiles. “If I can be a guy that guys can get some energy from, whether that’s physical play or just grinding out in the corners, then that’s something I want to be able to do.”
Reflected again and again in rookies’ views on their first glimpse into the pro life is the struggle to fit into the bigger picture. Kerdiles was no stranger to this, but his piece in the puzzle fit a little easier than most, thanks to guidance right of the box from Wisconsin alum and current Ducks forward Dany Heatley.
“He gave me tips during training camp. Told me to relax and play confident and just enjoy it,” said Kerdiles. “It’s a learning experience, and I’ll get my crack at it so just keep working hard.”
He has heeded that advice. Heading into the weekend, Kerdiles is tied for ninth in rookie scoring with eight points through 12 games, and his six assists are tops on the Admirals team.
Skalde isn’t sure how long the Admirals will have Kerdiles on their roster. The world of pro hockey loves throwing curveballs. But no matter if it’s a month or a year, Skalde is confident in Kerdiles’ future.
“I think it’s imperative to spend time here in the AHL. This is such a great learning ground for young guys,” said Skalde. “He’s going to absorb so much and the time spent here will just be so good for him. I know that when he [moves on], he’ll be ready for that next step. He’s a guy you root for, and a guy you want to see have success and play in Anaheim.”
Kerdiles is young. He’s just barely opened the door for his pro career. He’s had inconsistencies, and felt a little wobbly on the often unforgiving ground that pro hockey is built on. But he’ll be ready when the Ducks come calling.
“Confidence really is key and that’s something I’m trying to work on here in the AHL,” he said. “Having that confidence to just know that I belong here and that I’m going to get my opportunity in the NHL one day.”