ECHL North Division prospects preview

By Brian Jennings

The Northern Division will once again be a strong one. Six teams had winning records last season, the most of any division. Atlantic City hopes to regain the cup they won in 2003. Wheeling had the league’s best overall record last season with 51 wins and 106 points.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies

The Bullies went 47-19-6 in 2003-04, good for second in the league. They did not have the kind of postseason success they had in the 2003 playoffs, however. In the offseason, they added an affiliation with the New York Islanders. They now have two prospects under NHL contract, but neither is with the Islanders, who simply don’t have the number of prospects that other teams do.

Adam Munro was a Chicago draft pick, but began last year without an NHL contract, playing for the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators. In injury trouble early, the Blackhawks signed him to their AHL club, and then later in the year to a rookie contract. The soon-to-be 22-year-old played at three pro levels last year, including six games for the big club. He played on 25 games total last year though, so endurance may become a factor later on.

Brett Nowak, 23, spent 2003-04 with the Providence of the AHL. The 2000 draft pick must make marked improvement to work his way into Boston’s plans. The 6’3 forward had only 3 goals and 10 assists in 55 games for Providence last year.

Dayton Bombers

A disappointing season of 26-41-5 in 2003-04 will be motivation for the Bombers. Four Blue Jackets prospects can be found in Dayton, Ohio this year.

Janne Jokila is a 22-year-old left wing from Turku, Finland who spent most of the time in Dayton last year. He had 17 goals and 23 assists in 69 games there, and no points in seven games with the AHL Syracuse Crunch.

Ben Knopp is not afraid to go into the corners and play tough. A good fore checker with decent speed. Last season the 22-year-old defenseman posted 7 goals and 5 assists in 63 games for Syracuse.

Tyler Kolarik, a 23-year-old rookie center, had a very solid NCAA career at Harvard where he consistently averaged nearly a point per game over his four years. The 5’10 forward will need to show he can produce at the pro level as well.

Andrew Penner returns to the Bombers, having played 50 games for there last season. This season is his first under Columbus contract. He had a 15-27-2 record last year for Dayton with an .885 save percentage last season. He will be 22 next month.

Johnstown Chiefs

The Chiefs continue their affiliation with the San Jose Sharks, and picked up another over the summer with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. One of the original teams in the ECHL, Johnstown will look to improve over their disappointing Wild Card game exit on home ice to Reading in the 2004 playoffs.

Paul Lynch is the only prospect currently assigned by Tampa. The defenseman sat out all of last year per NCAA rules as he transferred from the University of Maine to UMass. In 2002-03 he played only 10 games. This season will be one of simply getting into pro game shape for the 6’3 Lynch.

Peoria Rivermen

The Rivermen of Peoria, IL will look to also come back from a first round exit as they return from a great season of 45-18-9. They continue their affiliation with the St. Louis Blues.

Troy Riddle is a 23-year-old rookie center taken by the Blues in the fourth round of the 2000 Entry Draft. He had very respectable college numbers with over a point per game average with the University of Minnesota, including 24 goals and 25 assists in 44 games last season. Riddle has good work ethic and attitude and is strong at both ends of the ice.

Igor Valeev is in his fourth year pro. The 23-year-old left winger split time last year between Peoria and Worcester with four points in 31 games with Worcester and 13 points in 11 games with Peoria. Being a solid checker will be his only ticket upward.

Reading Royals

The Royals return from a playoff run that saw them reach the conference finals only to lose in game 5 to Florida. Leading the league with 11 rookies on the roster might prove costly, but will make them interesting to watch. The Royals continue their affiliation with the Los Angeles Kings.

Barry Brust is a 21-year-old rookie out of the WHL. Last season with the Calgary Hitmen, he had a 2.24 GAA and a .917 save percentage. Thus far Cody Rudkowsky has started three games to Brust’s two. He was originally a third round pick of Minnesota in 2002.

David Steckel, 22, is a 6’4 rookie center from West Bend, Wisconsin. He had 30 points in 41 games last season at Ohio State. A physical defensive forward, Steckel will look to convert his game to the pro style. He was a first round pick of the Kings in 2001. So far he has two points in four games for the Royals.

Toledo Storm

The Toledo Storm continue their affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings, under coach Nick Vitucci. Last season they were 23-38-11.

Logan Koopmans is the only Wings prospect assigned to the team currently. The 20-year-old goaltender from Cranbrook, BC spent the last four years in the WHL for Lethbridge. His best season was last season with a 2.61 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Koopmans has yet to play a game this season for Toledo, behind veteran Scott Fankhouser.

Trenton Titans

The Titans return as a yearly favorite to not only make the playoffs but make a strong run at the cup. Last year they just barely missed the playoffs on the last day of the season. They continue their affiliation with the nearby Philadelphia Flyers.

Mathieu Brunelle returns to the Titans for his sophomore year. The 21-year-old left wing has speed, skill and tenacity. He had a very good rookie season with 56 points in 64 games with the Titans, and one point in seven games with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms. He was a seventh round pick of the Flyers in 2002.

Rosario Ruggeri is a 6’1 rookie defenseman out of Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. The 20-year-old had a very solid 12 goals and 36 assists in 65 games last season, along with 98 penalty minutes. He was a fourth round pick of the Flyers in 2002.

Stephen Wood is a 6’3 rookie defenseman out of Providence College. He had a very solid 11 goals and 18 assists in 37 games last season. The 22-year-old is a native of Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Wheeling Nailers

Last season the Nailers had the best record in the ECHL, surpassing the 50-win mark. The disappointment of an early exit from the playoffs will act as motivation for this season. Wheeling continues its affiliation with the nearby Pittsburgh Penguins.

Alex Rouleau, a 21-year-old defenseman from Mont-Laurier, PQ, split time between Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL. This stay at home defensemen had four points and 38 PIMs in 30 games with Wheeling and two points and 16 PIMs in 14 games with Wilkes-Barre.

Steven Crampton spent all of last season with Wheeling, scoring 53 points in 70 games, with 115 PIMs. The 22-year-old right wing is 6’2.

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