ECHL West Division prospects preview

By Brian Jennings

The premier “AA” Hockey League, the ECHL opened its 17th season on October 22 with 28 teams in 16 states and one Canadian province. The Victoria Salmon Kings became first ECHL team outside of the United States playing in Victoria, British Columbia.

Here is this year’s preview of each teams prospects in the West Division of the National Conference, which includes the current Kelly Cup Champion Idaho Steelheads.

Alaska Aces

The Anchorage, Alaska based Aces had a solid season in 2003-04, going 38-28-6, and look forward to making life interesting in the upper northwest with New Jersey Devil Scott Gomez having signed on. He’ll give his native state its money’s worth as they look to get past the second round of the playoffs this season. Unaffiliated, the Aces have no NHL contracted prospects.

Bakersfield Condors

The Bakersfield, California based Condors went 25-38-9 last year. While not officially affiliated, they have received two players from the Los Angeles Kings.

Yukata Fukufuji was an eighth round pick of the Kings in the 2004 draft. The 22-year-old netminder had played nine games in the ECHL before being drafted, in the 2002-03 season with Cincinnati. Last season he was with Kokudo in the Japan League and had a 1.67 GAA and a .945 save percentage.

Connor James is a smallish, quick winger who was taken by the Kings in the 2002 Entry Draft. He played four years at the University of Denver, and won the NCAA championship with them last season. He had 38 points in 40 games.

Fresno Falcons

The Falcons finished 23-43-6 in 2003-04. They continue their affiliation with the San Jose Sharks, though the Sharks have not assigned any players to the team so far this year. Instead, they have a goaltender assigned to them by the Florida Panthers, whose ECHL affiliate is Texas.

Simon Lajeunesse was a second round pick of Florida in the 1999 Entry Draft. The 23-year-old played eight games in the AHL last season and three games in the ECHL with Augusta and Columbus. At this stage, Lajeunesse is no longer considered a viable prospect.

Idaho Steelheads

Under coach John Olver, the Idaho Steelheads had a 40-23-9 regular season record and went on to win the Kelly Cup. They got important help from their former affiliate the Dallas Stars, including goaltender Dan Ellis. This season, they have a new NHL affiliate in the Phoenix Coyotes, and have several players on the roster from the club.

Former Maine Black Bear goalie Frank Doyle lead all goaltenders in NCAA Division I hockey last year with a .826 winning percentage. He had a 19-4-0 record, a 1.81 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Frank Lukes, an eighth round pick of the Coyotes in 2001, played all of last season with the AHL Springfield Falcons. The 5’9 winger posted only eight goals in 63 games last year and needs to prove that he can score more at the pro level. Lukes is 22.

Ladislav Kouba, 21, a seventh round pick of the Coyotes in 2002, spend time in the AHL, UHL, and WHL last season, playing a total of 29 pro games. The 6’3 winger has good hands and is a solid skater.

Landon Bathe is a new acquisition by the Coyotes, signed as a free agent after this summer’s rookie tournament. The talented fighter spent most of last year with the ECHL Toledo Storm, with 10 points and 182 penalty minutes in 56 games. He got in six AHL games with the Milwaukee Admirals as well. The 22-year-old Maine native is 6’0, 220 pounds.

Darren McLachlan, signed as a free agent out of the WHL in the summer of 2003, spent most of last year with the Adirondack IceHawks of the UHL where he had 10 points and 166 penalty minutes in 39 games. He had one point and 39 penalty minutes in 11 AHL games for Springfield as well. The 6’2 215-pounder is 21.

Las Vegas Wranglers

The Wranglers continue their affiliation with the Calgary Flames this season, but welcome a new AHL affiliate in the Lowell Lock Monsters, which Calgary is sharing with the Carolina Hurricanes this season. Last season the Wranglers had a 43-22-7 record.

Sebastien Centomo was let go by the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, and picked up by Calgary. He spent last season with the St. John’s Maple Leafs, posting a 13-17-4 record, with a 3.15 GAA and .904 save percentage. He is 23.

Dustin Johner is another 2004 free agent acquisition of the Calgary Flames. The 21-year-old center played five years in the WHL for the Seattle Thunderbirds. He joined the South Carolina Stingrays at the end of last season, with 6 points in four games in the regular season, and seven points in seven games in the playoffs.

Darren Lynch was a free agent acquisition as well, though back in 2002. The 21-year-old right winger is turning pro this season after five years in the WHL with Lethbridge and Vancouver. He had 59 points in 71 games last season, after 82 points in 70 games the year before.

Long Beach Ice Dogs

The Ice Dogs were not officially affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens last season, though they did host one of their prospects. With the shutting down of the Columbus Cottonmouths, the Canadiens have moved their affiliation officially to Long Beach. Both prospects they are sending spent most of last year with the Cottonmouths.

Olivier Michaud, 21, performed better at the AHL level than the ECHL level last season, his rookie year. He had a 3.01 GAA with a .896 save percentage last season for Columbus in the ECHL as well as a 2.53 GAA and .905 save percentage for Hamilton in the AHL.

Christian Larrivee, 22, also enters his sophomore season. The 6’3 center had 33 points in 72 games with Columbus last season, and two points in two games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

San Diego Gulls

The San Diego Gulls continue their affiliation with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, though they have not yet received any players from the organization this season. Last season they finished first overall in the regular season, with a 49-13-10 record.

Victoria Salmon Kings

The Victoria Salmon Kings are the ECHL’s newest franchise, but do not have an NHL affiliate, nor a very promising roster. They will tread water until their arena is finally finished.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.