By Kyle Palantzas
Born in the USA hit fan-favorite status in northern Saskatchewan this season, serenading the crowd each time Prince Albert Raiders dynamo right winger Jonathan Parker lit the lamp.
After a 45-goal campaign that left him fifth in Western League tallies, the California native has catapulted onto the NHL’s radar by outperforming highly touted prospects Nino Niederreiter, Quinton Howden and Ryan Johansen, to name a few, and is coming off the biggest turnaround season of any player in the league. Parker, who stands 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, scored 30 more goals this year than in the 2009-10 WHL season.
“At first I was amazed at myself for being up there with guys who are going to the big leagues,” Parker said. “But I worked hard all year, got nothing handed to me and hung right there with the best. I used their success as motivation and I know if I can keep that up, something will happen for me.”
Falling between the cracks at last year’s draft, the 19-year-old power forward is trying to muscle his way into the professional hockey scene. But even after reinventing himself, he barely made the grade on Central Scouting’s final ranking and stumbled in, for the first time, at 186th overall among North American skaters.
“He had a breakout year and regained his confidence from last season,” said Raiders coach-GM Bruno Campese. “He was able to score so many goals because he’s got an NHL release and when he gets open and keeps his feet moving he can certainly find the net and that’s what he did all year.”
Armed with a quick trigger, Parker’s hot-hand was consistent all season as he notched 17 multi-point performances en route to becoming the highest-scoring Raider in nine seasons - a feat that placed him among the league’s elite.
“Not only do I think he has the best shot in the league, but some of the plays he pulls out of his hat are unbelievable,” said linemate Justin Maylan.
Far from being a one-dimensional player, Parker showcased his versatility night after night, adding 41 helpers to his stellar campaign to carry the Raiders to their first playoff berth in three seasons.
Despite the fact he netted just three points in Prince Albert’s six-game first round loss to the Saskatoon Blades, Parker was flooded with offers from teams craving a closer look at the beach boy playing in the Prairies. The Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL won the sweepstakes and the charged-up winger, hungry to prove himself, strutted back to ‘The Golden State’ for his first taste of professional hockey.
“Being a part of the Condors was a great experience for me as a hockey player, because it opened my eyes to what the next level is all about and what I have to do to get there,” said Parker, who worked out with the team, but never dressed. “When I’m training back home over the summer, that experience will give me one more thing to think about.”
Wayne Gretzky’s famous trade to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 sparked a hockey market in Parker’s backyard and, decades later, he is part of a new line of California-bred players trying to brand the state as a nesting spot for cream-of-the-crop hockey.
Three of Parker’s homegrown comrades - Beau Bennett, Emerson Etem and Taylor Aronson - were scooped up in last year’s NHL draft, with first-rounders Bennett and Etem headlining California’s emerging pipeline of talent.
“A lot of great players are starting to come out of California and the hockey hype is getting bigger,” Parker said. “You see guys who grew up on the West Coast, by the beach, starting to get noticed and it’s opening a door for everyone else.”
Parker cut his teeth on the same hockey path as Penguins prospect Bennett, who he skated alongside for eight seasons with the L.A. Selects. The duo won a national championship in 2006 before parting ways, but both are aspiring to reunite one day at hockey’s pinnacle.
“The kid is tough-as-nails and pound for pound he will take a beating to make the play,” said former NHLer Joe Noris, who coached against all three California prospects. “There are not many guys who will take hits game-in and game-out and at some point I know someone is going to say, ‘Wow where did this kid come from?’ ”
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