The Vancouver Canucks have often had an affiliation agreement with an ECHL club, but it is only this year that they have started to utilize the club to benefit the entire organization
The Vancouver Canucks have been a much better NHL team this year, and that has trickled down throughout the organization.
At the beginning of the season, before injuries hit, the Canucks were near the top of the NHL, and their affiliates were also benefitting from the NHL club’s success. The Utica Comets boasted a roster with Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin, two NHL regulars, with the latter still in Utica. This effect trickled down even more, bringing high-quality players on NHL contracts to the ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings.
Defenceman Mitch Elliot and goaltender Jake Kielly are both playing in Kalamazoo this year, something that would never have happened even two years ago. There is also David Pope, the return from the Alex Biega trade.
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Mitch Elliot is a graduate of the well regarded Sarnia Sting OHL program, the same one which graduated former first overall pick Nail Yakupov. With his addition to the Wings, he has solidified their defence and is benefitting from the opportunity to play against full-grown men.
The players he faces in the ECHL may not be as skilled as what he was used to defending in the OHL, but the size and physicality will benefit him in the long run. Combine the skilled defending he practiced in the OHL, with the physical side to his game he is currently obtaining in the ECHL, he will be a much-improved defenceman when it comes time to take the next step in his career.
Jake Kielly, the late-season college free agent signing is in a similar situation to Elliot, playing his first professional season in Kalamazoo. The difference for him is that he has played against men before, many of whom are at a higher skill level than he is currently facing in the ECHL.
So if he is facing less skilled players in the ECHL, why is he playing there? Well, the adjustment to professional hockey is a big one and is something that can affect the mentality and performance of a player, especially a netminder.
It was discussed by many that there could have been the possibility of starting one of the Canucks glut of goaltenders in the ECHL, a far cry from where they were a year ago. It’s not bad that Kielly is in with the K-Wings, as it leaves more room to grow for Michael DiPietro, the prospect with greater potential.
As we can see so far this season, DiPietro has been able to adjust to the level of play in the AHL just fine, and that is a league that is a significant step up from the junior ranks he played in last year.
The question is, with two players on NHL contracts in the ECHL, is there any chance that they could one day become NHL players?
Of course, there’s always a chance, but there is a long way to go for both the players. The only notable player to suit up for the Vancouver Canucks who came from the ECHL is Alex Burrows, who played with three different teams in that league.
The ECHL is comprised of several different groups of players, with many being from Canadian University Sports (U Sports), interestingly enough, while the Canadian college game rarely gets any attention, they do take on the Team Canada World Junior team prior to the World Junior Championship. This goes to show that the quality of play in the ECHL is higher than many expect, and is a good professional starting point for players transitioning into the men’s game.
The Canucks have never used their ECHL affiliation to their full advantage, in part because they did not have enough talent to do so. This year, they have enough talent and it is nice to see that they are at least trying to take advantage of the K-Wings this season, allowing Mitch Elliot and Jake Kielly to test the waters before the organization takes its next step with the ECHL.