PRINCETON, N.J. – David Koci, who played for the Wheeling Nailers in each of his first two seasons, made his National Hockey League debut with the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
Selected in the fifth round (146th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft,, the 25-year-old Koci played his rookie season in 2001-02 with the Nailers and had six points (2g-4a) and 105 penalty minutes in 33 games while also playing in the American Hockey League for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton where he had four points (1g-3a) and 98 penalty minutes in 26 games. He returned to Wheeling in 2002-03 and had one assist and 103 penalty minutes in 48 games while also playing in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton where he had four penalty minutes in nine games.
The 6-foot-6 and 238-pound Koci, who signed as a free agent with Chicago in August 2006, becomes the second former ECHL player in the last two days to play his first NHL game and the fifth to make his NHL debut in March. He joins former Stockton defenseman Bryan Young (Edmonton on Mar. 9), former Reading and South Carolina center Rich Peverley (Nashville on Mar. 4), former Wheeling left wing Daniel Carcillo (Phoenix on Mar. 3) and former Reading left wing Shay Stephenson (Los Angeles on Mar. 1).
There have been 24 former ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season, including 14 since January, and 327 players overall who have played in the NHL after the ECHL.
Since 2000-01 there have been 182 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL including a record 47 who made their NHL debut in 2005-06. There have been 102 former ECHL players who have played in the NHL this season and all 30 teams have had a former ECHL player take the ice for at least one game. There were 112 former ECHL players who played in the NHL in 2005-06, including five goaltenders who played a game in both the ECHL and the NHL, and all 30 teams had a former ECHL player take the ice for at least one game.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07, marking the 10th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
There have been 24 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season: former Greenville and Richmond right wing Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), former Mississippi defenseman Sheldon Brookbank (Nashville on Feb. 6), former Reading goaltender Barry Brust (Los Angeles on Nov. 30), former Wheeling left wing Daniel Carcillo (Phoenix on Mar. 3), former Toledo center Matt Ellis (Detroit on Dec. 18), former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata (New York Islanders on Feb. 4), former Reading defenseman Jeff Finger (Colorado on Feb. 20), former Bakersfield and Reading goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji (Los Angeles on Jan. 13), former Charlotte defenseman Daniel Girardi (New York Rangers on Jan. 27), former Long Beach goaltender Jaroslav Halak (Montreal on Feb. 18), former Trenton goaltender Martin Houle (Philadelphia on Dec. 13), former Alaska left wing D.J. King (St. Louis on Oct. 5), former Wheeling defenseman David Koci (Chicago on Mar. 10), former Florida center Drew Larman (Florida on Nov. 13), former Florida defenseman Martin Lojek (Florida on Feb. 3), former Toledo goaltender Joey MacDonald (Detroit on Oct. 19), former Pensacola center Kris Newbury (Toronto on Dec. 23), former South Carolina and Reading center Rich Peverley (Nashville on Mar. 4), former Augusta right wing Pierre Parenteau (Chicago on Feb. 7), former Columbia right wing Jesse Schultz (Vancouver on Nov. 28), former ECHL All-Star goaltender Mike Smith (Dallas on Oct. 21), former Reading left wing Shay Stephenson (Los Angeles on Mar. 1), former Augusta goaltender Mike Wall (Anaheim on Nov. 26) and former Stockton defenseman Bryan Young (Edmonton on Mar. 9).
There are two NHL head coaches (Peter Laviolette and Jim Playfair) and nine NHL assistant coaches who have an ECHL background. The ECHL was represented for the sixth consecutive year on the Stanley Cup champion in 2006 by Laviolette, who is the first ECHL coach to hoist the coveted trophy, Chad LaRose, Andrew Hutchinson and assistant athletic trainer Chris Stewart.
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 27 teams in the American Hockey League in 2006-07 and for the past 17 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion. The ECHL has had more players called up to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined each of the past four seasons with 1,646 call ups involving almost 1,000 players.
In 2005-06 the ECHL and its member teams contributed more than $2.3 million for charity and relief funds, including those benefiting victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while also making thousands of appearances by players, coaches, team personnel and mascots at schools, hospitals, libraries and charity functions.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.