The importance of the ECHL cannot be overstated, although it may not be the first league one thinks of when minor-league hockey is discussed.Nearly five hundred former ECHL players have played in the National Hockey League to date, according to the league’s website. A full list can be found on the site, but for now – let’s take a look at some of the big names.
Former NHL goaltender Alex Auld, who now plays in the Austrian National League, spent a bit of time with the Columbia Inferno in 2001-02 before joining the Manitoba Moose and eventually, the Vancouver Canucks.
Not enough, you say? How about Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks, who also spent parts of three seasons in the ECHL. He played with Greenville in 2002-03, notching nine goals and 17 assists, as well as 201 penalty minutes, in 53 games. Burrows went on to play with Baton Rouge (4-2 in 13 games) and Columbia amidst his AHL career and en route to his time with the Vancouver Canucks.
Pittsburgh Penguins coach (and former NHLer) Dan Bylsma also played in the ECHL, along with other former Penguin Luca Caputi and current Penguins enforcer Deryk Engelland. After doing his time in the Western Hockey League, Engelland played for Las Vegas, South Carolina and Reading in the ECHL.
Perhaps one of the neatest statistics offered up on the ECHL’s alumni site is the list of the five most recent ECHL players who have made their way to the NHL.
The most recent is right wing Akim Aliu, who played in three different leagues this past season; Aliu played 10 games with the Colorado Eagles of the ECHL, 42 games with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, and made his NHL debut in two games with the Calgary Flames. He’s also played with Toledo and Gwinnett in his ECHL career and played his first NHL game on April 6.
Jussi Rynnas also played in those same three leagues this past season. The Finnish netminder notched 22 games with the Marlies, 14 games with the Reading Royals and two games with the Maple Leafs thanks to injuries to James Reimer.
Another former ECHLer who made his National Hockey League debut recently is (pictured) Brad Thiessen, who spent the majority of last season with Wilkes-Barre but also played five games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Thiessen last played in the ECHL in the 2009-10 season.
The ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, is considered the leading professional developmental league for the American and National hockey leagues. The league consists of 23 member teams, many of which are affiliated with one or more NHL teams, and began in 1988-89. Entering its 25th season, it is the third longest tenured professional hockey league.
490 former ECHL players have played in the NHL; twenty-three made their National Hockey League debut during the 2011-12 season.