Luke Prokop, Leevi Merilainen Among 40-Plus NHL Prospects To Watch In ECHL

Luke Prokop, Leevi Merilainen Among 40-Plus NHL Prospects To Watch In ECHL

A high number of players on NHL contracts are currently spending time in the ECHL including notables Luke Prokop, Leevi Merilainen and Domenick Fensore.

Oct 25, 2023 by Chris Peters

The ECHL, at its core, is a development league. According to the league, 72 players who donned an ECHL jersey in their career made NHL opening-night rosters this season. As the premier "AA" hockey league in North America, the ECHL can represent one of the first steps a player takes on his professional hockey journey.

This season is no different with dozens of players under NHL contracts currently on ECHL rosters. Some may be called up to the AHL sooner than later, but their time in the ECHL will be valuable. To help you track some of the most notable prospects currently playing in the ECHL, here's a handy list and why you should be watching out for these particular players.

Players listed by ECHL team in alphabetical order.

Tyler Brennan, G, Adirondack Thunder (New Jersey Devils)

A 2022 second-round pick of the Devils, Brennan is just getting his feet wet in pro hockey this season. He saw the bulk of the starts for the Prince George Cougars over each of the last two seasons, but never cracked a .900 save percentage. Brennan is a big, athletic netminder that has a lot of raw tools. He’ll get the chance to sharpen those tools at the pro level with Adirondack and get the reps necessary to get his feel for the position as a professional.

Leevi Meriläinen, G, Allen Americans (Ottawa Senators)

One of the top goalie prospects playing in the ECHL this season, Meriläinen actually appeared in two games with the Ottawa Senators in the NHL last season. Prior to returning to North America, he had a strong season in Finland’s top pro league, posting a .918 save percentage in 42 games with Kärpät. Meriläinen has the size and technique to one day start games in the NHL.

With Allen, he’ll have the opportunity to get a bunch of reps against North American pros while the Sens have Mads Søgaard and Kevin Mandolese manning the AHL crease with the Belleville Senators. Ottawa really has a lot of intrigue in the future of its goaltending. 

Side note: You'll be able to catch Meerläinen and the Americans in our ECHL Game of the Week Sunday as they take on the Atlanta Gladiators. The game will stream live and free on FloHockey's Facebook and YouTube pages Sunday at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Philippe Daoust, C/W, Allen Americans (Ottawa Senators)

After missing almost all of last season due to injury, Daoust is getting a chance to get his season started in Allen and get his legs back under him. In nine games with Belleville in the AHL last season, Daoust had seven points. The 21-year-old former sixth-round pick of the Sens got off to a quick start this season with four points over his first two games with Allen in a hard-fought series with Idaho.

Nolan Burke, C, Atlanta Gladiators (Nashville Predators)

Currently injured, Burke is starting the season on reserve. That said, when healthy, he should be an intriguing rookie. Signed last fall as an undrafted free agent, Burke had a career year in the OHL with Sarnia. He had 82 points in 56 games including 50 goals. He also averaged 16 points in 15 postseason contests with the Sting.

Luke Prokop, D, Atlanta Gladiators (Nashville Predators)

A big defenseman with puck-moving capabilities, Prokop played for the Memorial Cup in each of his last two years of junior hockey. The two-time WHL champion had an eight-game stint in the ECHL last season with Norfolk before returning to junior for an over-age season. The 2020 third-round pick of the Nashville Predators will get important pro reps this season as he tries to level-up his game to get on the NHL track.

Prokop also has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQIA+ initiatives as the first openly gay player under NHL contract. He was named the WHL’s and CHL’s Humanitarian of the Year in 2022.

Side note: You'll be able to catch Prokop and the Gladiators in our ECHL Game of the Week Sunday as they take on the Atlanta Gladiators. The game will stream live and free on FloHockey's Facebook and YouTube pages Sunday at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Jack Matier, D, Atlanta Gladiators (Nashville Predators)

A towering right-shot defenseman who was drafted in the fourth round in 2021, Matier very much remains on the NHL radar for Nashville. He can defend at a high level and brings the physicality when needed. He had a career year with the Ottawa 67s in 2022-23, posting 49 points including 13 goals. He also was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning World Junior team last winter.

Matier got off to a fast start with the Gladiators, posting two points in his professional debut.

Talyn Boyko, G, Cincinnati Cyclones (New York Rangers)

Over the past two seasons with the Kelowna Rockets, Boyko started 40-plus games. In fact, he started a staggering 54 games between the Tri-City Americans and Rockets in 2021-22. He casts an imposing frame at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds. The 2021 fourth-rounder has plenty of rounding out ahead of him, but he’s in the right spot to get reps and build a resume to move up the ranks.

Olof Lindbom, G, Cincinnati Cyclones (New York Rangers)

After spending almost all of last season in the ECHL with the Jacksonville Icemen, Lindbom brings experience to Cincinnati, which is the Rangers’ new affiliate. Lindbom had his ups and downs last season, posting an .890 save percentage in 28 games. This is a big year for his development as, at 23 years old, the Rangers will want to see him take a step.

Nathan Staios, D, Florida Everblades (Florida Panthers)

A second-year professional, Staios played all of last season with the Florida Everblades, but dealt with injuries on and off and was in and out of the lineup. He did not play in the playoffs as the Everblades claimed their second-straight Kelly Cup. This year could be a bit of a restart for Staios, who was the CHL’s Defenseman of the Year in 2022. The expectation is that he’ll be able to put up points this year and challenge for a call-up to the AHL.

Carl Berglund, C, Fort Wayne Komets (Edmonton Oilers)

Signed by the Oilers out UMass-Lowell last season as an undrafted free agent, Berglund got a few AHL games last season. He’s now finding his way in the ECHL with Ft. Wayne which has a high number of players under NHL and AHL contracts on their roster. Berglund is more of a two-way center with better results on the defensive side of the puck. He won’t put up a ton of points, but he’ll need to find a way to establish a role for himself as a professional with the Komets.

Jake Chiasson, C/W, Fort Wayne Komets (Edmonton Oilers)

After a productive final year of junior hockey spent between the Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades, Chiasson is starting the year in the ECHL. The former fourth-round pick of the Oilers had 58 points last season in the WHL. He is starting the year on injured reserve, but has good size and some offensive touch that should help Ft. Wayne produce.

Hunter Jones, G, Iowa Heartlanders (Minnesota Wild)

Jones’s numbers may not have looked all that good last year, but a .905 save percentage under the workload he faced with an Iowa team that really struggled last year was a strong result. Strong enough for Jones to earn another contract from Minnesota. He’s the only goalie under NHL contract on the roster, so he should get the lionshare of starts and will be the first recall if the Iowa Wild need a goalie. Jones remains one to watch as he enters his fourth professional season.

Maxim Cajkovic, RW, Iowa Heartlanders (Minnesota Wild)

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, Cajkovic is a skilled player who is entering his third season of pro hockey. He had 27 points in 41 games with the Orlando Solar Bears last year and will be looked to for more scoring help as the Heartlanders seek to improve off of a dreary 2022-23 season.

Pavel Novak, RW, Iowa Heartlanders (Minnesota Wild)

Perhaps the feel-good story of the league this year, Novak is returning to action after missing all of 2022-23 while recovering from his battle with Hodgkins lymphoma. Before his diagnosis, Novak was an excellent WHL player and represented Czechia at the World Juniors. He’ll have to get his conditioning and timing back, but so far he looks like there won’t be a ton of work to get there. Novak scored twice in just his second game back and appears to have a hold on an elevated role with the Heartlanders.

Ty Glover, C/W, Kalamazoo Wings (Vancouver Canucks)

Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Penguins out of Western Michigan, Glover was traded earlier this fall to the Vancouver Canucks organization and now he’s back in Kalamazoo where he played his college hockey. Glover played 49 games in the AHL last season, but never established much of a scoring touch there. The 6-foot-3 power forward may get that opportunity with Kalamazoo, especially as the Canucks are looking to better utilize the ECHL to kickstart their prospects and get them more ice time.

Kyle Jackson, C/W, Kansas City Mavericks (Seattle Kraken)

Jackson got off to a hot start in the ECHL with three assists in his pro debut and a goal in his second game as the Mavericks swept Wichita. Jackson was a seventh-round pick of the Seattle Kraken, but did not earn an NHL contract. He did, however, get an AHL deal in Seattle’s organization and the opportunity to prove himself. After 83 points in the OHL last season and an addition 18 in 20 playoff games with the North Bay Battalion, Jackson has a chance to be a source of offense for Kansas City, for however long he’s in the ECHL. 

Ryan Mast, D, Maine Mariners (Boston Bruins)

A 6-foot-5 right-shot defenseman is always going to be given every opportunity to prove himself and grow into a role. After two strong seasons with Sarnia in the OHL, Mast is starting the season with Maine. He will learn how to defend at the pro level and get chances to prove himself more against men. He’ll be challenged at this level and if he shows progression, the 2021 sixth-rounder may yet earn a callup to Providence.

Vyacheslav Peska, G, Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Playing his first professional season in North America, the Russian netminder is getting a chance to the differences in Newfoundland. Peska spent most of last season in the VHL, which is Russia’s second pro division. He found success there, but now will get his opportunity to prove himself with one of the ECHL’s top teams in front of him. Peska earned a win in his North American pro debut while stopping 95% of the shots he faced.

Thomas Milic, G, Nofolk Admirals (Winnipeg Jets)

Wherever he has been, Milic has been a winner. He was the WHL playoffs MVP last year as the Seattle Thunderbirds won the title and was also the league’s goalie of the year. He has gold medals at the World Under-18 Championship and last year’s World Junior Championship. He has yet to lose a game in IIHF play.

Milic was finally drafted in his final year of eligibility by Winnipeg in the fifth round. Why had no one ever taken him? It’s a size thing. Goalies under 6-foot-2 have to prove themselves more than the bigger guys. Milic will have the chance to do that in the ECHL.

Yaniv Perets, G, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

After backstopping Quinnipiac to its first national championship last year, Perets earned a contract from the Hurricanes. Like Milic, he has to overcome doubts about his size. But a .935 career save percentage in the NCAA does a lot of speaking for Perets. He’ll have to share starts with Milic throughout the year, but the reps he gets this year will help him adjust to both the pro game and not having one of the NCAA’s best defensive teams in front of him at this level.

Domenick Fensore, D, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

Fensore is a heck of a lot of fun to watch. He didn’t waste much time displaying that as he had three points over his first two games in the ECHL. At 5-foot-7, he’s had to overcome concerns about his size, but Fensore is a tremendous skater and has high-end skill with the puck on his stick. He was a third-round pick of Carolina and if they had an AHL affiliate this year, he’s likely playing there. Instead, Norfolk gets to enjoy a shifty offensive defenseman to play a big role for their team.

Justin Robidas, C, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

Another player that likely would have started the season in the AHL had the Canes had an affiliate there, Robidas is going to be viewed as a potential offensive force in the ECHL. He did score once in his first weekend of pro hockey after a highly successful career in the QMJHL which ended with a Memorial Cup with the Quebec Remparts. The son of longtime NHLer Stephane Robidas had 239 points in 223 QMJHL games.

Ronan Seeley, D, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

Seeley spent all of last season with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL last season, posting 25 points in 70 games. It’s safe to assume that’s where he’d be if not for Carolina’s current situation. But now the Admirals get the benefit of a former World Junior champion and two-way blueliner with legit pro experience. 

Griffin Mendel, D, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Quinnipiac, Mendel appeared in 72 AHL games last season. He’s a 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman who will focus more on the defensive side of things. Having an option like that on the blue line is a huge boon to Norfolk’s ability to prevent goals.

Blake Murray, C/W, Norfolk Admirals (Carolina Hurricanes)

Entering his third year of pro hockey, Murray split last season between the AHL and ECHL. He's been more productive in the ECHL than he has up a level, but now the expectation should be Murray playing a leading role with Norfolk. He has experience, he has the ability and he should have the opportunity. Murray has 53 points in 95 career ECHL games including a goal already this season.

Colten Ellis, G, Orlando Solar Bears (St. Louis Blues)

The Blues don’t have an ECHL affiliate, so Ellis has bounced around through a few different teams over the last three seasons. A standout junior goalie in the QMJHL, Ellis is still trying to find his way as a pro. Now with Orlando, he’ll have a strong team in front of him and will look to build on his first two pro seasons.

Jeremie Biakabutuka, D, Orlando Solar Bears (St. Louis Blues)

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Blues development camp after a breakout year in the QMJHL with the Charlottetown Islanders, Biakabutuka earned his opportunity. The 6-foot-4 defenseman had 42 points last season and has the physicality to hold his own in a lot of battles. The nephew of former NFL star Tim Biakabutuka, Jeremie had a three-game look in the AHL with Grand Rapids last season.

Marc-Andre Gaudet, D, Orlando Solar Bears (St. Louis Blues)

A former fifth-round pick, Gaudet is playing his first season of pro hockey. He had a career year in the QMJHL between the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and the Sherbrooke Phoenix, posting 61 points 66 games from the back end. He also had nine points in 14 playoff games for Sherbrooke. Gaudet’s development has picked up in the last two years and now he’ll get the chance to prove he can produce against pros.

Tanner Dickinson, C, Orlando Solar Bears (St. Louis Blues)

Dickinson is working his way back after he broke his leg in January of 2022. He missed all of last season while recovering and now will look to rebuild his career after a devastating injury derailed it. Prior to that, Dickinson’s stock was majorly on the rise. He made Team USA’s World Junior roster for the tournament that ended up being cancelled due to a COVID outbreak and a few weeks later he was injured. Prior to the broken right femur, Dickinson had 47 points in 35 games with the Soo Greyhounds. There’s a long way back for him yet, but Dickinson has a tremendous on-ice work ethic and once he gets his offensive timing back, he should be a scoring threat.

Jaydon Dureau, LW, Orlando Solar Bears (Tampa Bay Lightning)

The 2020 fifth-round pick is entering his second professional season after spending much of last year with Orlando. Dureau had 19 points in 36 ECHL games last season and saw 13 contests in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. This year should be viewed as a chance for the former Portland Winterhawk to really break out. 

Bennett MacArthur, LW, Orlando Solar Bears (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Entering bis second full pro season, MacArthur will look to build on a campaign that saw him produce 28 points in 58 games with the Solar Bears last season. The 6-foot-1 winger was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2022 after scoring 42 goals and 77 points in his final QMJHL season. The Solar Bears will be looking for that level of offense this season as he is expected to take a step this year.

Will Zmolek, D, Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers)

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Bemidji State, Zmolek is a defense-first player with some size and physicality. He did post 21 points in 36 games in his final collegiate season, but don’t look for Zmolek to put up numbers as a pro. He’s there to take care of his own end and get pucks out of trouble. He got three games with Lehigh Valley in the AHL last season, but will look to find his way as a pro this season in the ECHL.

Joe Fleming, D, Savannah Ghost Pirates (Vegas Golden Knights)

Signed out of a rookie camp he attended with Vegas, Fleming eschewed college plans and spent last year with Sherbrooke in the QMJHL. Fleming is a tough customer who plays the game hard. He already scored in his second professional game with Savannah and will be an intriguing player to follow this season.

Garin Bjorklund, G, South Carolina Stingrays (Washington Capitals)

A major back surgery kept Bjorklund off the ice for all but one game last season, costing him his first professional season. The former WHL netminder will need time to get things back together for himself, but more than anything he needs to play. His first start this season for South Carolina didn't go well, but simply being on the ice, being healthy and playing is a step in the right direction for the 2020 sixth-round pick.

Alexandre Doucet, C/W, Toledo Walleye (Detroit Red Wings)

Doucet signed with the Wings last winter amid an incredible QMJHL season that saw him finish third in the league with 115 points. The Red Wings often use their ECHL team pretty liberally to get some of their younger players the needed reps and Doucet is surely getting that with Toledo. He scored a goal in his pro debut and will be one to watch as he pushes for a call-up.

John Lethemon, G, Toledo Walleye (Detroit Red Wings)

The reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Year, Lethemon earned his first NHL contract from the Red Wings last season. Lethemon was in a platoon role last season with Red Wings top prospect Sebastian Cossa and lost just once in regulation during the regular season. The 27-year-old is back with the Walleye to start the season and likely will see some time up in the AHL as well this year. 

Ty Smilanic, C/W, Trois-Rivières Lions (Montreal Canadiens)

Not currently under NHL contract, but a draft pick of the Habs, Smilanic has some work to do to get his career rolling again. He had dealt with some injuries early in his career and also took some time away from the game for personal reasons. He decided to turn pro rather than continue at the University of Wisconsin. Now he's got a chance to start over a little bit and find his way as a pro. At one point a highly-touted prospect, Smilanic has some tools that should translate well in the ECHL.

Gage Alexander, G, Tulsa Oilers (Anaheim Ducks)

Alexander is a big goalie with a lot of raw tools, but needs a lot more playing time. He should get that in Tulsa. There’s a lot of work to be done to get his game in the right direction after a very up-and-down 2022-23 season that saw him play in the WHL, AHL and ECHL. Perhaps a more settled year will push Alexander forward.

Gianni Fairbrother, D, Utah Grizzlies (Colorado Avalanche)

After missing all of last season with a knee injury, the former Montreal Canadiens third-rounder is looking to rebuild himself a bit in the ECHL. Now a prospect in the Colorado Avalanche system after being part of the trade that sent Alex Newhook to Montreal, Fairbrother should get significant minutes with Utah. He had 28 games in the AHL over the last few seasons and had not yet played in the ECHL. Fairbrother will look to stay healthy and give himself a chance to prove himself in Colorado's organization.

Trent Miner, G, Utah Grizzlies (Colorado Avalanche)

Miner is in his third pro season and has spent much of it in the ECHL. The former seventh-round pick has had flashes of brilliance over that time, especially in the postseason where he always gave his team a chance. Miner could see some more time in the AHL this year and has already played one game up. He also picked up a win for Utah in his debut with Utah this season, making 32 saves against Tulsa.

Isaac Beliveau, D, Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins)

A first-year pro, Believau was a highly-productive blueliner in the QMJHL. The 2021 fifth-rounder is starting the season with Wheeling and should get some more pro habits in his game. He is clearly skilled and moves pucks effectively, but has to prove he can do the same against more experienced opponents. He very well could be an early call-up back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor Gauthier, G, Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins)

After splitting last season between the AHL and ECHL, Gauthier this campaign in the ECHL with Wheeling. He should be able to get some consistent starts and have a chance to go up over the course of the season. He now has 36 games of pro hockey under his belt coming into this year and started things off with a win for Wheeling in his debut with 30 saves against Cincinnati.

Dillon Hamaliuk, LW, Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins)

The former second-round pick of the San Jose Sharks has had his share of bad injury luck over his career, but has a chance to start this season anew in a new organization. Hamaliuk appeared in just six games with Wichita last season, but had seven points in that brief run. Hamliuk started this season with an assist as he looks to get himself back on track.

Jordan Frasca, C, Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins)

In his second pro season, Frasca is back with the Nailers. He had 12 points in 37 ECHL games with Wheeling last season and also played in eight AHL games. As a junior player, Frasca was highly productive, putting up 87 points 

Lukas Svejkovsky, C/W, Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins)

A productive player throughout his WHL, Svejkovsky found the points a bit tougher to come by in his first AHL campaign. He had 15 points in 47 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but was booked for Wheeling to start the season. In his first ECHL game, Svejkovsky had a goal and an assist as he looks to work his way back to the AHL.

Tristan Lennox, G, Worcester Railers (New York Islanders)

The 21-year-old rookie made his pro debut over the weekend and made 32 saves in a losing effort. Still, it was a good test for Lennox, who is just getting his feet wet in the pro ranks. A former third-round pick of the Islanders, Lennox had modest numbers over the course of his junior career, but at one point was considered among the top goalies in his age group. Getting pro reps with the Railers should go a long way to figuring out where he fits in long term.