PRINCETON, N.J. – For the 16th consecutive year, the ECHL is represented on the Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh Penguins’ player Tom Kuhnhackl, goalie development coach Mike Buckley, Vice President of Hockey Operations Jason Karmanos, Director of Pro Scouting Derek Clancey, Amateur Scout Warren Young, Head Athletic Trainer Chris Stewart and Head Equipment Manager Dana Heinze.
The Wheeling Nailers are the ECHL affiliate of the Penguins. The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League had affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the NHL in 2015-16, marking the 19th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams. The ECHL had 74 players on NHL opening-day rosters, marking the 13th year in a row that there have been over 50 former ECHL players on opening-day rosters.
Kuhnackl made his professional debut with Wheeling in 2012-13, scoring one goal in two games and added 14 points (7g-7a) in 16 regular-season games with the Nailers in 2013-14 before tallying six goals in 10 games during the 2014 Kelly Cup Playoffs. He made his NHL debut with the Penguins on Jan. 9, 2016 and went on to record 15 points (5g-10a) in 42 regular-season games. He appeared in all 24 games for Pittsburgh during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, adding five points (2g-3a).
Buckley, who is in his third season as the Penguins’ goalie development coach, is responsible for working with and assisting in the development of goalie prospects and players throughout the Penguins’ organization. He appeared in 12 ECHL games with the Mississippi Sea Wolves and Gwinnett Gladiators during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
Karmanos, who also won a Stanley Cup title as an executive with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, is in his second season as Pittsburgh’s vice president of hockey operations. He played 16 games in the ECHL with the Raleigh IceCaps in 1996-9, tallying eight points (3g-5a).
Clancey also was part of the Penguins’ scouting staff during their Stanley Cup title in 2009. He ranks seventh in ECHL history with 367 career assists and is 23rd with 524 points in 391 career games with Winston-Salem, Erie, Toledo, Columbus and Chesapeake. He also coached six seasons in the ECHL with Jackson and Reading from 1999-2005, posting an overall record of 180-136-42.
Young served as head coach of the Louisville IceHawks from 1990-93 and of the Louisville RiverFrogs from 1995-98 with an overall record of 208-211-51.
It is the third Stanley Cup title for both Stewart and Heinze, who held similar roles in the ECHL with the Johnstown Chiefs. Both were part of the Penguins’ staff during the team’s 2009 title, with Stewart also winning a title with Carolina in 2006 and Heinze with Tampa Bay in 2004.
In addition to the members of the Penguins, there are 33 other ECHL alums who have been on the Stanley Cup winner: vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard, director of pro scouting Ryan Stewart, players Scott Darling and Andrew Desjardins and pro scout Derek Booth (Chicago – 2015); assistant coach Davis Payne; players Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Martin Jones, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles – 2014) assistant coach Jamie Kompon, players Sheldon Brookbank and Daniel Carcillo, vice president/assistant to the president Al MacIsaac director of pro scouting Ryan Stewart and general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard (Chicago – 2013); Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles – 2012); assistant coach Geoff Ward, Rich Peverley, Michael Ryder and Tim Thomas (Boston – 2011); vice president Al MacIsaac, assistant coach Mike Haviland, associate coach John Torchetti and director of pro scouting Ryan Stewart (Chicago – 2010); head coach Dan Bylsma and Ruslan Fedotenko (Pittsburgh – 2009); Aaron Downey (Detroit – 2008); assistant coach Dave Farrish, Francois Beauchemin and George Parros (Anaheim – 2007); head coach Peter Laviolette, Andrew Hutchinson and Chad LaRose (Carolina – 2006); Ruslan Fedotenko, Nolan Pratt and Andre Roy (Tampa Bay – 2004); Corey Schwab (New Jersey – 2003); Manny Legace (Detroit – 2002); David Aebischer and Nolan Pratt (Colorado – 2001); Krzysztof Oliwa (New Jersey – 2000) and Kevin Dean (New Jersey – 1995).
The ECHL was represented in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 40 former players and 15 coaches on the 16 teams. It was the 11th year in a row that there were at least 30 former ECHL players and the 13th consecutive season that over 25 players with ECHL experience competed in the NHL postseason. It marked the 12th straight year that the ECHL has been represented by at least six coaches.
There have been 599 players who have played in the NHL after playing in the ECHL including 30 who have made their NHL debuts in the 2015-16 season. The ECHL has had 407 players reach the NHL since 2002-03 when it changed its focus to become the primary developmental league for the NHL and the AHL. The ECHL had 97 players reach the NHL in its first 10 seasons and 215 in the first 15 years. There have been 343 ECHL players who have played their first game in the last 11 seasons for an average of more than 31 per year.
There were five players who played in both the ECHL and NHL in 2015-16: Ben Harpur with Evansville and Ottawa, Ross Johnston with Missouri and the New York Islanders, Mackenzie Skapski with Greenville and the New York Rangers, Garret Sparks with Orlando and Toronto and Scott Wedgewood with Adirondack and New Jersey.
The first ECHL player to play in the NHL was Johnstown Chiefs goaltender Scott Gordon, who played his first game with the Quebec Nordiques against Buffalo on Jan. 30, 1990.
Former ECHL broadcasters working in the NHL include John Ahlers and Steve Carroll of the Anaheim Ducks, Dave Goucher of the Boston Bruins, Chris Kerber of the St. Louis Blues, Jack Michaels of the Edmonton Oilers, Doug Plagens of the Florida Panthers, Bob McElligott of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dave Mishkin of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Former ECHL player Jody Shelley is an analyst with the Blue Jackets.
About the ECHL
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league with 28 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province for its 28th season in 2015-16. There have been 599 players who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League after starting their careers in the ECHL, including 30 who have made their NHL debuts in the 2015-16 season. The ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 NHL teams in 2015-16, marking the 19th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. Further information on the ECHL is available on its website at ECHL.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter.