The ECHL All-Rookie team was announced last week, but as often happens with rookie honors, it was dominated by older rookies, 23 and 24-year-olds. Time has shown that it’s the very young players in the ECHL, the 21 and 22-year-olds, who are most likely to make the NHL, however.
Therefore, Hockey’s Future has created All 21-year-old and All 22-year-old teams for 2003-04 in order to highlight the young talent in the league. Selection was based on actual play during the season and potential to make the NHL. Statistics were taken into account, but were not the deciding factor. Rookies were favored over second year players and only those who played a majority of the year in the league were included. To read interviews with players done over the course of the season, click the on linked names.
All 21-year-old Team
G – Michael Garnett, Gwinnett
F – Mathieu Brunelle, Trenton
F – Charles Linglet, Alaska
F – Jonathan Gagnon, Augusta
D – Paul Ballantyne, Toledo/Louisiana
D – Maxime Fortunus, Louisiana
The All-21 Team features four players out of the QMJHL. Michael Garnett is the only non-rookie of this group. The 2004 ECHL All-Star was a workhorse for the Gladiators when he was not called up to Chicago of the AHL, 21-10-2-1 with a 2.14 GAA and .926 save percentage in 33 games. Under contract with Atlanta, he’ll be in the AHL full time next season. He’s the surest bet of the group to make it someday.
Mathieu Brunelle, a draftee of the Philadelphia Flyers, spent his rookie season with affiliate Trenton. His speed, skill and tenacity made him exciting to watch as he put up 56 points in 64 games. He ranked second in rookie power play points with 28. Listed at 5’11″, 181 pounds, Brunelle turned 21 only this week.
Charles Linglet had a down year in junior last year, but bounced right back in his rookie pro season with 55 points in 62 games, and was named to the All-Star game. He will no doubt get a chance at a higher level next year. He has good size at 6’2”, 212 pounds.
Jonathan Gagnon is a very dynamic player who had a bit of an adjustment period at first, improved as the season went on. He ended with 40 points in 63 games, with a 16.3 shooting percentage. He has a very high upside. Once he fills out, he should be ready to take on bigger challenges.
Paul Ballantyne is a defensive defenseman, but he scored more than anyone expected this year in the ECHL, with 37 points in 57 games. Under contract with Detroit, he was reassigned to Louisiana at the end of the year once Toledo was out of the playoffs in order to get more games in. He has a very bright future and should move up to Grand Rapids next season.
Maxime Fortunus is remarkable on this All-21 team because he is actually still only 20 years old. His spectacular +28 put him fourth best among rookies. He had 18 points in 64 games on the blue line.
Honorable mention (All-21):
Jesse Schultz, F, Columbia – Schultz had 47 points, more than Gagnon, but he played on a much better team and doesn’t have as much of the upside.
Nate Kiser D, Dayton – Kiser, a defensive defenseman, was an ECHL All-Star game selection in his rookie year. His –13 is a product of being on a losing team, not of poor performance. He brought his PIM levels way down from junior, only 114 in 63 games but retained the same level of offense, 15 points in 63 games.
David Masse, LW, Reading – Masse was able to convert his offensive game from the QMJHL to the ECHL, scoring 47 points in 53 games, earning him an All-Star selection. While not huge, at 6’0” 175 pounds, he’s big enough that size won’t hold him back.
All 22-year-old Team
G – Frederic Cloutier, Louisiana
F – Tim Smith, Columbia
F – Carl Mallette, Florida/Roanoke
F – Jamie Johnson, Louisiana
D – Brian Fahey, Atlantic City
D – Andreas Holmqvist, Pensacola
Frederic Cloutier was an ECHL Western Conference starter in the All-Star game. Platooning with partner Derek Gustafson, he was 20-8-1-2 with a 2.31 GAA and a .920 save percentage in 32 games. Rebounding after a tough year last year, Cloutier is under contract with Minnesota.
Tim Smith was not only be best 22-year-old in the league, he was arguably the best overall, leading the league in scoring with a spectacular 95 points. He moved up the charts over the course of the season, a mark of improvement. Smith is a small, speedy winger who works hard at both ends of the ice. A second year pro, he’s under contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Carl Mallette is a first year pro out of the QMJHL, after a one-year stopover with Dalhousie University of the CIS. He scored 71 points in 73 games, good for fourth among rookies.
Jamie Johnson is a playmaking center who finished fifth in the rookie scoring race with 57 points in 71 games. He is 5’11” 185 pounds. Coming from the OHL, he was among good company with the many good young prospects on the Louisiana IceGators.
Brian Fahey joined Atlantic City as a rookie defenseman out of the University of Wisconsin. He had seemed to lose his scoring touch after his freshman year with the Badgers, but found it again with the Boardwalk Bullies, with 37 points in 55 games on the back line. He was also an impressive +21 and was an All-Star selection as well.
Andreas Holmqvist was expected to compete for a job on the Tampa Bay Lightning last fall. His failure to make the team was Pensacola’s gain. He scored 37 points in his North American debut and was +8 in 63 games. He’s likely played his last game in the league as Tampa Bay will have a full AHL affiliation next year and not need to send as many players to Pensacola.
Honorable mention (All-22):
Olivier Proulx, F, Dayton – Proulx is a rookie out of the QMJHL. His 53 points put him tied for 12th among rookies. He tied for second in rookie shorthanded points with five.
Cory Campbell, G, Johnstown/Toledo – Campbell spent a year in the UHL after junior before moving to the ECHL. Traded midseason, overall he was 9-7-1-3 with a 2.04 GAA and .922 save percentage in 19 games.
Paul Flache, D, Gwinnett – Flache improved steadily over the course of the season, earning him a number of games in the AHL. This was his second year pro, after missing a large chunk of games last year with illness. While mostly concentrating on defense, he had 18 points in 62 games and was +18. Under contract with Atlanta, he’ll play in the AHL with Chicago next year.
Jason Jaffray, F, Wheeling – It’s hard to argue with numbers like these, 74 points in 54 games and a +20. At 6’1” 204-pounds, 2002-03 ECHL Rookie of the Year Jaffray has the raw materials to develop.