Many NHL teams moved their ECHL operations closer to them this offseason by changing affiliates. This move helps with marketing and allows the NHL team brass to keep a close eye on prospects. The trend coincides with the new NHL CBA and the increasing importance of development of players.
Nearby affiliation relationships has been going on for years in certain areas of the country: Pittsburgh Penguins/Wheeling Nailers, Columbus Blue Jackets/Dayton Bombers, Philadelphia Flyers/Trenton Titans, Detroit Red Wings and Toledo Storm, and the Atlanta Thrashers/Gwinnett Gladiators.
But it has become a real trend of late, with the following pairs of teams joining forces in 2006: Vancouver Canucks/Victoria Salmon Kings, Montreal Canadiens/Cincinnati Cyclones instead of Long Beach, Phoenix Coyotes/Phoenix Roadrunners (who play in the Coyotes’ old building), New Jersey Devils/Trenton Titans, and Chicago Blackhawks/Toledo Storm after Greenville closed down operations.
NHL teams typically send two to four prospects to their ECHL affiliates. This year, Montreal and Chicago begin the year sending none, compared to Tampa Bay who has sent nine. The Florida Everblades, who have an affiliation with both the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, have nine NHL contracted players on the roster. In all, over 70 players in the ECHL are on NHL contracts.
There have been 304 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 47 in 2005-06. Recent years have seen many more graduates from the ECHL to the NHL — there have been 158 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL in the past five seasons. The latest graduate is goaltender Joey MacDonald, who moved from the Toledo Storm to the Detroit Red Wings.
As a new year begins, hundreds of players hope to become the next Joey MacDonald. Below is a look at the prospects to keep an eye on this year in the ECHL.
The best prospects in the ECHL are consistently the goaltenders. There is another bumper crop of them entering the league this year.
David McKee (ANA), a Hobey Baker finalist in his sophomore year with Cornell University after posting a .947 save percentage in 35 games, left school a year early to sign with Anaheim. The 22-year-old is playing for affiliate Augusta Lynx.
Josh Tordjman played for two teams in the QMJHL last year and posted a .915 save percentage, finishing with a trip to the Memorial Cup with the Moncton Wildcats. Signed as a free agent by Phoenix Coyotes, he will suit up for the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Devan Dubnyk, who had a .912 save percentage in 2005-06 for the WHL Kamloops Blazers, has been assigned to Edmonton Oilers new affiliate, Stockton Thunder. The 6’5 netminder was selected 14th overall by Edmonton in 2004.
Dan LaCosta (CLB) played 59 games last year for the Barrie Colts, posting a .915 save percentage. The 2004 third round pick will be a rookie for Dayton alongside Buffalo signee Adam Berkhoel.
Los Angeles sent rookie Danny Taylor to Bakersfield, as they had done with Ryan Munce the year before. Taylor was a seventh round pick of the Kings out of the OHL. Munce moved to affiliate Reading Royals this season.
David Shantz (FLA) moves from the Peterborough Petes, where he had a .915 save percentage last year, to the Florida Everblades. Shantz was selected 37th overall by the Panthers in 2004.
Twenty-one-year-old Dan Turple and 24-year-old Dave Caruso (ATL) will both be in net for the Gwinnett Gladiators.
Returning goaltender Kevin Nastiuk (CAR) begins the year on the IR due to a crowded Blades crease that includes Shantz and Craig Kowalski.
Brett Carson, 6’5, 215 lbs, was a fourth round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2004. He’ll start the year with the Florida Everblades. Fellow rookie Bret Nasby (FLA) is beginning the season on the Everblades’ 30-day IR due to recent nasal surgery.
Paul Albers emerged as one of the top scoring defenseman in junior hockey last year, putting up 62 points in 70 games for the Vancouver Giants. Signed in the offseason as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild, the 21-year-old will begin the season with the Texas Wildcatters. Minnesota signed another offensive defenseman in Mike Madill out of St. Lawrence University. The 24-year-old had 27 points in 40 games last year.
Scott Lehman (ATL) joins Gwinnett after four years with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, where he had 50 assists and 175 penalty minutes in 68 games last year.
Trevor Hendrikx, who Columbus could not agree to terms with in 2005 so they drafted again, moves from the Peterborough Petes, where he had 56 points and 124 penalty minutes in 60 games last year, to affiliate Dayton.
The New Jersey Devils send just one prospect to new affiliate Trenton Titans, Olivier Magnan, who had 41 points in 69 games last year for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL.
Daniel Fernholm (PIT) split last year between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling. He returns to Wheeling to start the season.
Tough defenseman Nathan Saunders (ANA) looks to get back on track playing for Augusta after an injury-filled 2005-06 with Portland.
Chris Collins and T.J. Trevelyan were both finalists for the Hobey Baker award last year and will play for Long Beach. Collins, 5’8, and Trevelyan, 5’9, were free agent signees of Boston over the summer. Collins had an impressive 60 points in 40 games for Boston College last year, including 31 goals. Trevelyan had 48 points in 40 games for St. Lawrence University.
Tampa Bay sent seven prospects to the Johnstown Chiefs, who they partly own. The list includes Radek Smolenek and Stanislav Lascek. Smolenek, a Czech, had 84 points in 65 games in the OHL last year, while the Slovakian Lascek had 135 points in 64 games in the QMJHL. The Chiefs also have free agent QMJHL standout Maxime Boisclair, who had a gaudy 130 points in 70 games last season.
David Brine was a 100-point scorer last year in the QMJHL, signed by the Florida Panthers and assigned to the Florida Everblades. Adam Taylor signed with the Panthers as well, but returns to the Victoria Salmon Kings, who hold his ECHL rights.
Anaheim’s Shane Hynes was injured most of last year and will look to rebound to his Cornell production with Augusta.
The NY Rangers are sending two Czechs to Charlotte this year: Jakub Petruzalek and Zdenek Bahensky. Petruzalek had 31 points in 24 OHL games last year, and also played 19 games in the Czech league. Bahensky had 55 points in 65 WHL games. Bruce Graham (NYR) looks to rebound this year after a rough 2005-06 season.
Petr Pohl and Tim Konsorada, both property of Columbus, are in Dayton. Pohl, another Czech, is a rookie out of the QMJHL, where he had 70 points in 62 games last year. Konsorada played for Dayton last year, where he had 48 points in 54 games.
Chad Painchaud (ATL) is a rookie for Gwinnett out of the OHL where he had 65 points in 49 games for Sarnia.
Defending champs Alaska Aces have received just one prospect from St. Louis, winger Ryan MacMurchy, who was part of a championship himself last year with the University of Wisconsin.
In addition to Boisclair, there are a few other players not on NHL contract who might surprise.
Bryan Bridges, who had a .916 save percentage for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, will play for his hometown Salmon Kings.
Cedric Desjardins lead the Quebec Remparts led the Memorial Cup championship last season, and posted a .906 save percentage through the regular season. Under contract with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, he’ll suit up for Cincinnati.
Dirk Southern is a 23-year-old rookie for Augusta out of Northern Michigan University who had 34 points in 39 games last year. He was a Ducks draft pick, but unsigned by the club.
Colton Fretter, an unsigned draft pick of the Thrashers, will suit up for Gwinnett. In his best year, he had 44 points in 40 games for Michigan State.
Goaltender Dominic Vicari signed with Toledo, having left Michigan State a year early when he lost his starting job. The 5’10 soon to be 22-year-old will have something to prove this season.
The ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07. The newest is between the Boston Bruins and Long Beach Ice Dogs, just announced this week.
* = received Danny Taylor from Los Angeles
** = received five prospects from the Minnesota Wild
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