Over the past number of years, I have been fortunate to be part of a team where a few players I recruited made the jump to the American League and then, ultimately, to the NHL. This is happening more and more for players who begin their pro careers in the ECHL.
According to the ECHL's website more than 367 former ECHL players have skated in the NHL. I have not had a direct hand in many of these, but I want to share stories about two players I was personally involved in recruiting.
Jason Jaffray of the Vancouver Canucks was a great junior player who came out of Swift Current/Kootenay in the Western League. When he was finishing his junior career in the spring of 2002 I was working for the Chicago Blackhawks affiliates in Norfolk (AHL) and Roanoke (ECHL). After the conclusion of the WHL season I talked to Jason, his Mom (who worked closely with him), and his agent.
Fortunately he decided to attend Norfolk’s camp and made his pro debut in Roanoke at the start of the 2002-03 season. Jason posted excellent numbers in junior and there were great reports on him coming from my WHL contacts, so I was excited to have Jason commit. However, he did not have enormous NHL appeal because most felt he could not skate at the pro level.
Jason overcame this hurdle because his skills, character and willingness to prove the critics wrong prevailed. It was not long before he was making noise in the ECHL; he had great instincts and was a natural scorer. It took a few years before he finally got a legitimate shot in the AHL, but his success there and brief stint in the NHL is certainly a result of the patience and teaching he has received in Manitoba with the Moose.
Congratulations Jason on your NHL debut in 2007-08 with the Canucks. Your hard work and dedication have given you this opportunity.
Rich Peverley is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and when he finished school he signed a two-way AHL contract between the AHL’s Portland Pirates and the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays – affiliates of the Washington Capitals.
When I began scouting, I thought this type of contract would be in a player’s best interests. However, when you sign a two-way minor pro contract you are limited to that one AHL team for call-ups. If the team you sign with has a lot of players on AHL and NHL contracts, getting an opportunity to move from the ECHL to the AHL can be hard.
This is exactly what happened to Rich; a talented player who put up great numbers as a rookie in South Carolina, but wasn’t rewarded with any time in Portland because of the plentiful bounty of talent. After his rookie season - in the summer of 2005 - I was working with Derek Clancey (currently scouting with Penguins) with the Reading Royals, the ECHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs. We were very interested in Rich and with me being from Guelph (his hometown), we spoke several times and coach Clancey was able reach to reach a deal with Rich.
In Reading, we not only had the reputation of moving guys up to Manchester (AHL), but also had a great relationship with several other AHL teams, including the Milwaukee Admirals. With Rich’s skill, we knew it wouldn’t be long before he was playing full-time in the AHL. He played only 11 games in the ECHL in 2005-2006 before being recalled to Milwaukee in the fall of 2005.
Last year he made his NHL debut with Nashville, where he played 33 games. Rich’s is a great story about a young man who wasn’t drafted to the NHL.
Both of these stories should encourage players who may not have been drafted or are simply developing late. When I first talk to players at the end of their junior, NCAA or CIS careers, many are thinking it’s the AHL or bust. It is a process as we educate these players not only about the growth of the ECHL, but also the relationship that exists between the ECHL, AHL and NHL teams. Many young players may not be ready to make the jump to the AHL right away, so the best decision for them is to play in the ECHL or attend post secondary school in Canada (a great option for many and one that I will address in a later blog).
This may not be the message players want to hear, but with the growth of the game and the large pool of players we have to draw from - the three major junior leagues, NCAA, Canadian University, as well as other minor pro leagues - it is the new reality.
When I worked in Reading, it was not uncommon to have as many as 10 players on recall to the AHL. This can pose serious problems for coaches, who have to scramble to find players to fill these spots, but that’s another story. However, as a scout, it’s always fulfilling to watch players move to the next level.
The ECHL is a great league and provides players an opportunity to continue to grow and work towards taking that next step to the NHL.
Please take some to time to learn more about the league and its 24 teams.
All of this information is available at www.echl.com
Mike MacPherson began scouting in 1999 for the Chicago Blackhawks and was responsible for the ECHL. He is currently the director of scouting for the Phoenix Roadrunners, NHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks and also scouts the OHL for the International Scouting Service. MacPherson also coaches in the OMHA within Guelph Minor hockey.