PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Atlantic City goaltender Matthew Yeats became the 250th ECHL player to advance and play in the National Hockey League when he made his debut with Washington on Tuesday. Yeats, who replaced former ECHL goaltender Olaf Kolzig at the beginning of the third period, stopped all 14 shots he faced in the Capitals 3-0 loss at the New York Islanders.
Yeats becomes the 35th player in 2003-04 to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL. The previous high for ECHL players making their first NHL appearance was 27 players in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. The first ECHL player to play in the NHL was Johnstown goaltender Scott Gordon, who made his debut with the Quebec Nordiques against Buffalo on January 30, 1990.
Selected in the ninth round (248th overall) by Los Angeles in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, the 24-year-old Yeats was signed as a free agent by Washington on March 19. Prior to signing with Washington, Yeats was 2-1-1 with a shutout, a goals against average of 2.17 and a save percentage of .928 in seven games with Portland of the American Hockey League.
In his first professional season in 2002-03, Yeats helped Atlantic City win the ECHL Championship going 4-1 with a shutout, a goals against average of 2.42 and a save percentage of .896 in eight Kelly Cup Playoff games. The 6-0 and 181-pound Yeats was 23-16-8 and tied for third in the ECHL with four shutouts while finishing with a goals against average of 3.01 and a save percentage of .896 in 48 regular season games with Atlantic City. He also played with Philadelphia of the AHL going 1-1-0 with a goals against average of 2.67 and a save percentage of .902 in two games.
In three years as a starter at the University of Maine, Yeats was 44-23-11 with a goals against average of 2.63 and a save percentage of .900. Maine won the national championship when Yeats was a redshirt freshman, and the Black Bears returned to the title game in his senior year, losing in overtime to the University of Minnesota.
Yeats is the 34th ECHL player to make his NHL debut in 2003-04 joining Johnathan Aitken (Chicago on November 26), Ryan Barnes (Detroit on December 15), Mike Bishai (Edmonton on January 29), Darryl Bootland (Detroit on November 8), Garrett Burnett (Anaheim on October 8), Andy Chiodo (Pittsburgh on February 18), Mathieu Chouinard (Los Angeles on February 29), Carl Corazzini (Boston on January 15), Benoit Dusablon (New York Rangers on March 4), Dan Ellis (Dallas on February 18), Mike Green (Florida on February 3), Andrew Hutchinson (Nashville on October 18), Boyd Kane (Philadelphia on October 16), Quintin Laing (Chicago on February 29), Cory Larose (New York Rangers on February 16), Patrick Leahy (Boston on December 6), Brett Lysak (Carolina on March 19), Steve McLaren (St. Louis on December 16), Jason MacDonald (New York Rangers on December 12), Graham Mink (Washington on February 3), Adam Munro (Chicago on March 1), Lawrence Nycholat (New York Rangers on January 20), Josh Olson (Florida on March 11), Pat Rissmiller (San Jose on November 13), Nathan Robinson (Detroit on November 28), Michael Ryder (Montreal on October 9), Dany Sabourin (Calgary on October 29), Rob Skrlac (New Jersey on December 13), Rastislav Stana (Washington on November 14), Mike Stuart (St. Louis on October 24), Matt Underhill (Chicago on March 7), Darcy Verot (Washington on January 1), and Jeremy Yablonski (St. Louis on December 30). Travis Brigley, who played for Macon of the ECHL in 2001-02, played for Colorado on October 26.
There have been 103 ECHL players that have played in the NHL in 2003-04 including 31 goaltenders. There have been 10 players, including eight goaltenders, who have played in both the ECHL and the NHL in 2003-04, doubling the high of five players in 2001-02. There were 53 former ECHL players on NHL opening-day rosters surpassing the record of 50 players set in 2002-03.
There are nine ECHL coaches in the NHL, including Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Peter Laviolette and Florida Panthers Interim Head Coach John Torchetti, and there are 13 referees and three linesmen with ECHL experience on the 2003-04 NHL officiating staff. The ECHL has affiliations with 21 of the 30 teams in the NHL in 2003-04 and there has been an ECHL player on each of the 30 NHL teams in 2003-04.