ECHL East Division prospects preview

By Holly Gunning

By and large, it’s business as usual in the ECHL for 2004-05. There is somewhat of an increase in talent as part of the trickle-down effect from the NHL lockout, but not so much as to change the look of the league. Around one to two players per team who would normally not be playing in the league will be suiting up. The biggest impact of the lockout may be in ticket sales, especially in several markets that border NHL cities.

Below is a look at just some of the talent under NHL contract that will be found in the East Division of the American Conference. Play begins Friday, October 22nd.

Augusta Lynx

Over the summer, the Florida Panthers ended their short-lived relationship with Augusta and chose instead to affiliate with the Texas Wildcatters, a team closer to their AHL affiliate, San Antonio. Augusta recently found an NHL team wishing to place a couple prospects, the New Jersey Devils. No formal affiliation agreement has been announced, but both Kenny Magowan and Matus Kostur have been assigned to Augusta, who did not qualify for the playoffs in 2004.

Kenny Magowan (NJ) is a 23-year-old rookie out of Boston University. The 6’2 205-pound right winger had 15 points in 25 games in a season cut short by a knee injury. Magowan is a two-way player will all-around skill.
Matus Kostur (NJ) is in the third year under contract with New Jersey. In 2002-03 and 2003-04 he played for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the ECHL, with 10 games with Albany last year as well. In Columbus last season he had an impressive 1.97 GAA and a .927 save percentage. The presence of veteran netminder Jason Saal on the team means that Kostur will likely see back-up duties.

Charlotte Checkers

The Checkers continued their affiliation with the New York Rangers into the new season, and added another in the Ottawa Senators. Getting help from two NHL teams may help them finish higher than 22nd overall in the league last year, out of the playoff hunt. New York is sending far more players, and a visiting coach in Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino. Derek Wilkinson stepped in as head coach of the Checkers last January, so 2004-05 will be his first full season.

Juris Stals (NYR) is a 22-year-old center who played all of last season with AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack, collecting 18 points in 62 games. The Latvian native has good size at 6’3 210 pounds.
David Liffiton (NYR) is a 20-year-old rookie out of Plymouth of the OHL. This stay at home defender will mix it up if necessary, and has a surprisingly good slapshot. He had 11 points and 85 PIMs last year in 44 games.
Jake Taylor (NYR) is a 21-year-old defender who has turned pro after only one year at the University of Minnesota where he had 8 points in 39 games. At 6’4 205, he isn’t a bad skater for his size.
Kelly Guard (OTT) spent the 2003-04 season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL where he won the 2004 Memorial Cup title. In the regular season, he led the WHL in wins (44), shutouts (13), and GAA (1.56) and was named runner-up for the WHL player of the year award. Guard is 21.

Columbia Inferno

The Inferno continue as the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks this season, having moved many of the prospects they had last year up to the AHL Manitoba Moose, including 2003-04 ECHL leading scorer Tim Smith. The team finished first in its division last year and lost in the Southern Division Semifinals to South Carolina.

Rob McVicar (VAN) returns to the team for a second season. The netminder played 19 games for Columbia in 2003-04, posting a 2.59 GAA and a .909 save percentage. He also played 10 games for the Manitoba Moose. The 6’4 goaltender will work on consistency this season. The 22-year-old is paired with veteran Mike Minard in net.

Greenville Grrrowl

For the first time in many years, last season the Grrrowl were without an NHL affiliate, and it showed in their record. The team went a dismal 14-53-5, worst in the league and worst in many record books as well. The team hopes to get back to its Kelly Cup-winning ways with new affiliations with both Edmonton and Chicago. They are receiving the most prospects under NHL contract of any team in the league, six from Edmonton and four from Chicago. The team is coached by John Marks, who enters his seventh season at the helm of the Grrrowl.

Alexander Kojevnikov (CHI) might be the most talented forward to ever grace the Grrrowl roster. The deft stickhandler scored 21 points in 35 games between two teams in the QMJHL last season. The 6’3 Russian will work on matching his talent level to his all-around game in Greenville. He was a third round pick of the Blackhawks in 2002.
Mike Brodeur (CHI) is a rookie out of Moose Jaw of the WHL. The 21-year-old 6’2 netminder has good technique. He posted a 23-12-5 record last season, along with a 2.11 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
Mike Morrison (EDM) will battle Brodeur for playing time. The 25-year-old had a 2.52 GAA and .913 save percentage with Toronto of the AHL last season.
Joey Martin does not have an NHL contract, but will be a prospect to watch on the Grrrowl. The 23-year-old rookie defender out of the University of Minnesota does not put up a lot of points, only 15 in his entire four years at college, but he is solid defensively and a good skater. The 6’3 225-pounder was a 2000 draft pick of the Blackhawks.

Pee Dee Pride

The Pride were affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks up until last season, but cut ties with the organization in the offseason. It will be difficult for Pee Dee (who played as the Florence Pride for most of last year) to pull themselves out of their last place finish in the division without the infusion of talent that an affiliation brings. They were predicted to come in last in division in the yearly coaches poll.

South Carolina Stingrays

The Stingrays picked up an affiliation with the Washington Capitals in the offseason. They did well last season on their own however, posting a 39-28-5 record and losing in the Southern Division finals to Florida.

Maxime Daigneault (WAS) joins the team from Val D’Or of the QMJHL where he posted a 23-22-9 record, a 2.92 GAA and a .912 save percentage. The 20-year-old was a second round pick of Washington in the 2002 Entry Draft. Daigneault will be paired in net with veteran Kirk Daubenspeck.
Steve Spencer (NJ) was an assistant captain for the Stingrays last season as a rookie, but returns this year under New Jersey contract. The 6’3 220-pounder is a solid defender who will drop the gloves. He had five points and 119 PIMs for the Stingrays in 2003-04.

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