There have been 255 players who have gone on from the ECHL to play in the NHL in the league’s 16-year history. Prominent names on this list include Andrew Brunette, Olaf Kolzig, Byron Dafoe, Bob Boughner, Ruslan Fedotenko and Tomas Vokoun.
The stream of graduates has been rising over time, but the record was shattered in 2003-04 with 40 graduates during the season, far surpassing the previous record of 27 set in 1999-00 and 2000-01. Of those 40, 11 players appeared in both leagues during 2003-04, which broke the previous high of five players in 2001-02. The increase in graduates is proof that the league’s recent push to become even more of a developmental league has in fact been successful.
The class of 2003-04 ECHL graduates was led by Michael Ryder, who was a finalist for the NHL’s Calder Trophy for outstanding rookie. He led NHL rookies with 63 points and 38 assists on the season. Ryder played 25 ECHL games for Mississippi and Tallahassee during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.
Below is a close-up look at the record-breaking ECHL to NHL class of 2003-04, and a demonstration of the type of talent that the league is producing.
Twenty percent of the 2003-04 graduates were goaltenders, confirming the conventional wisdom that the ECHL is a good training ground for goaltenders. Surprisingly, however, the percentage of goaltenders was down compared to previous seasons, when it averaged 27 percent. Of the 11 players who played in both the ECHL and NHL in 2003-04, eight were goaltenders, including players such as Dan Ellis (Dallas), Mathieu Chouinard (Los Angeles) and Matthew Yeats (Washington).