Prospects to watch in the ECHL in 2005-06

By Holly Gunning

While the concentration of talent in the ECHL for the 2005-06 season won’t be quite as high as during the NHL lockout, there are still several very good prospects to keep an eye on. It should come as no surprise that most of them are goaltenders. Twenty-seven percent of the 263 ECHL graduates to the NHL have been goaltenders.

Of the seven former ECHL players who have debuted the NHL thus far this season, Timo Helbling (TB), Derek Boogaard (MIN), Michael Garnett (ATL), Adam Berkhoel (ATL), Raitis Ivanans (MON), George Parros (LA) and Mark Streit (MON), two are goaltenders — Garnett and Berkhoel.

Goaltenders to watch

The Ottawa Senators have assigned rookie goaltender Jeff Glass to the Charlotte Checkers, where he will be coached by Derek Wilkinson, himself a former goaltender. Glass was the top goaltender in the WHL last season, and helped the Canadian World Junior team to a gold medal. He debuted on Friday, posting a 40-save shutout against the Gwinnett Gladiators. Last season Ottawa sent Kelly Guard to the Checkers, who is now with Binghamton.

The Montreal Canadiens have assigned rookie Jaroslav Halak to the Long Beach Ice Dogs. Last season, the 20-year-old posted a 24-17-4 record with a .913 save percentage in the QMJHL.

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The Los Angeles Kings have assigned Yutaka Fukufuji to the Reading Royals. He spent last season assigned to the Bakersfield Condors.

Andy Chiodo (PIT), one of the most frequently transacted prospects the past three years, will spend at least part of the season again with the Wheeling Nailers.

Logan Koopmans, a Detroit Red Wings prospect, will spend a second year with Toledo under former goaltender Nick Vitucci.

Rookie Jon Boutin was assigned by Tampa Bay to the Johnstown Chiefs. The former third round pick spent four years in the QMJHL.

Maxime Daigneault (WAS) will see time in net for South Carolina again this year, and Craig Kowalski (CAR) returns to the Florida Everblades as well.

Tyler Weiman will move from the CHL Colorado Eagles to the ECHL San Diego Gulls as part of the Colorado Avalanche’s new affiliation with the team. Weiman was named Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the Central Hockey League. Another affiliation change creating a new venue for a prospect is the St. Louis Blues new affiliation with the Alaska Aces. Chris Beckford-Tseu moves from the ECHL Peoria Rivermen to the Aces.

There are a few intriguing NHL free agents to watch as well. One is Tuomas Tarkki, who was a Top 20 Hobey Baker finalist last season with Northern Michigan. He’s signed by the Gwinnett Gladiators, but has had the good fortune of practicing with the Atlanta Thrashers twice in the past couple of weeks when they were short on netminders.

Bernd Bruckler (Charlotte), Steve Silverthorn (Idaho), Jeff Weber (Stockton) and Mike McKenna (Las Vegas) are all names to watch as well. Three of the four were drafted by NHL teams, but went unsigned.

Skaters to watch

The best players never stay long at this level, so catch a glimpse right away. Lee Falardeau is starting the year back with the Charlotte Checkers, but the power forward likely won’t be long for the league. David Bararuk begins the season again with Idaho, and already has four points in two games.

The St. Louis Blues have sent defenseman Zack Fitzgerald to Alaska. The 20-year-old was selected in the third round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and played four seasons in the WHL. He begins the season on the IR.

The Atlanta Thrashers have assigned 2003 fourth round pick Guillaume Desbiens to Gwinnett. The 20-year-old is a tough guy with some decent hands. Though they fought in junior, the schedule will never match him up against Jimmy Bonneau, a Montreal Canadiens rookie assigned to Long Beach.

Cory Pecker, an unsigned Anaheim pick, is off to a good start, with five points in two games for the Phoenix Roadrunners.

Thanks to a shared AHL affiliation this season, the Florida Panthers will be sending more prospects to the ECHL level. Among them are defensemen Martin Tuma, Martin Lojek, and Grant McNeill, and forward Drew Larman.

Tampa Bay has assigned rookie Zbynek Hrdel to Johnstown. The Czech-born left wing played three seasons in the QMJHL.

Adam Pardy is a big, mean, defensive defenseman, assigned to the Las Vegas Wrangers by the Calgary Flames.

The Avalanche have sent two skaters to San Diego, defenseman Tomas Slovak and forward Frantisek Skladany.

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