Burke, Maple Leafs see value in ECHL affiliation

Special to ECHL.com

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Things are looking up for the Toronto Maple Leafs.


General Manager Brian Burke’s squad has won three straight, and currently sits seventh in the Eastern Conference on the heels of some great goaltending by James Reimer.  In those three wins, Reimer has posted two shutouts and allowed just three goals against the red-hot Oilers in a 6-3 win on Monday.


Just 23 years old and relatively unheralded in the organization before last season, the thought for many was that was Reimer had simply come out of nowhere.

Actually, he came out of the ECHL.

With the Columbia Inferno in limbo, the Reading Royals stepped up to become Toronto’s affiliate beginning with the 2008-09 season. Burke joined the Leafs just one month into that season and inherited the Royals affiliation, which has produced 26 graduates to the National Hockey League in their history.


In an exclusive chat with ECHL.com following the American Hockey League Hall of Fame induction ceremony that Burke attended in Atlantic City, he was asked about his club’s affiliation with Reading.


"We think the ECHL is a really important part of the entire process," Burke said. "We’re really happy with our affiliation there, it’s been terrific for us."


Of the Royals alumni currently playing in the NHL, goalies are the most prominent. Before emerging as one of the league’s premier goaltenders, Jonathan Quick played for the Royals during their last season as a Kings affiliate in 2007-08, and Reimer got into 22 games for Reading in 2008-09 before eventually getting to Toronto last year.


"It’s been really beneficial to have (Reimer)," Burke said. "Obviously, James got hurt earlier in the year and Jonas Gustavsson has kind of taken the net away from him, but we expect him to battle back.


All in all, 11 of the 26 players to graduate to the NHL after playing for the Royals have been goaltenders, including Reimer. The league’s propensity to produce quality goaltending is a fact that isn’t lost on the veteran GM.


"I think the league has produced a lot of players for the NHL, goaltenders in particular," he said. "We’re very happy with that situation."


The success of Reimer after a stint in Reading brings to mind Ben Scrivens, who also played exceptionally well during his time with the Leafs after seeing his first professional action with the Royals just last season.

"It’s the same thing (with Ben)," Burke said.

"It’s good hockey there. Every team wants to have five goaltenders under contract, and develop one in the ECHL, and they’ve done a great job with that."


Although Burke said that no one on his current group in Reading was standing out to him, ironically enough, it could be another goalie who’s next to emerge from the Royals down the road. Mark Owuya has played exceptionally well for Reading’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, since being returned from Reading and while Jussi Rynnas has struggled early with the Royals, he’s considered to be the Leafs best goaltending prospect yet to reach the NHL.