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The last 20 years have seen the ECHL become an important developmental stop for young goaltenders carving their paths to the NHL.
Ten former ECHL goaltenders have earned their names on nine Stanley Cups dating back to the 2000-01 season, as the league has proven to be an integral point of transition between youth or college hockey and the faster, more disciplined, and more systematic pro game. With the idea that goaltenders take longer to develop than forwards or defensemen, the ECHL is an especially good spot for late-round NHL draft picks to sharpen their games.
All 10 Cup winners in this list were drafted in the third round or later; some of these “late-bloomers” may have had short-lived ECHL careers, but even small amounts of time in the league can prove crucial to future success. Despite six of these 11 netminders being the backup in their teams’ championship runs, each one played a role in earning their name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues, 2019
Binnington was a feel-good story during the 2018-19 NHL season: a 25-year-old coming out of nowhere to turn the Blues around in the process of stealing the starting job en route to the Stanley Cup.
Binnington spent the 2013-14 season with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings as one of the top goalies in the league before earning a regular spot with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, where he continued to develop his game over several seasons to become an NHL starter.
Braden Holtby & Philipp Grubauer
Washington Capitals, 2018
Holtby began the 2009-10 season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays but earned a role in the AHL after just 12 games. He continued to tune his skills, turning into one of the NHL’s best netminders from 2013-17.
As Holtby’s backup in 2018, Grubauer played 69 ECHL games between 2011-2013. He has since become the starter for a dangerous Colorado Avalanche on the rise and in search of a Stanley Cup.
Chicago Blackhawks, 2015
While Corey Crawford played the bulk of the season for the Blackhawks and earned his second Cup in three years, Darling was more than just along for the ride. He carried a .936 SV% through the playoffs for a 3-1 record on the back of a 42-save overtime shutout and double-overtime win.
Jonathan Quick & Martin Jones
Los Angeles Kings, 2014
A two-time Stanley Cup winner, Quick was an NCAA stud with UMass for two seasons before turning pro ahead of 2007-08. He spent the bulk of the season backstopping the ECHL’s Reading Royals as he showed a tad more development was necessary.
As Quick’s backup in 2014, Martin Jones is an ECHL alum, despite playing just one game for the Ontario Reign in 2010-11. Quick won the Stanley Cup two years prior without Jones.
Boston Bruins, 2011
Thomas had consistent success wither Vermont of the NCAA from 1994-97 before turning semi-pro with the now-defunct IHL. He also had a six-game stint with the ECHL’s Birmingham Bulls where he posted a .944 SV% that seemingly launched interest in his ability.
After college, he played on eight different teams between 1997 and 2002, where he finally landed in the NHL with Boston. In 2010-11, Thomas earned his second Vezina Trophy in three years, along with the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.
New Jersey Devils, 2003
Schwab played parts of eight NHL seasons for four different teams from 1995-2004, which included two stops in New Jersey as Martin Brodeur’s backup.
Schwab spent just eight games in the ECHL in 1991-92, in addition to nine more playoff games. Still, a nice cozy spot behind one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history helped him lift the Cup in 2003.
Detroit Red Wings, 2002
Legace was the No. 2 behind Dominik Hasek in 2001-02 on one of the greatest teams ever assembled, complete with nine Hall of Famer players (plus rookie Pavel Datsyuk), a Hall of Fame coach, and Hall of Fame general manager.
Legace still saw 20 regular-season games and a playoff relief appearance. He had a mediocre, three-game stop in the ECHL in 1996-97 followed by some shifting in the IHL and AHL before an 11-year NHL career.
Colorado Avalanche, 2001
Aebischer played in 27 ECHL games between the Chesapeake Icebreakers and Wheeling Nailers in 1997-98, followed by two years in the AHL before landing a gig behind Patrick Roy as an NHL rookie in 2000-01.
Aebischer played in 26 games with Colorado in 2000-01, in addition to one minute in the playoffs (yes, you read that right).
The ECHL’s developmental ability for goaltenders is even evident in years an alumni goaltender doesn’t hoist the Cup.
Since 2000-01, 15 of 19 Stanley Cup championship teams either had a goalie with ECHL experience or a goalie who was previously drafted in the first round of the NHL draft. With just four championship teams that don’t fit into either category, the development of late-blooming goaltenders in the ECHL compares to that of first-round goalies typically viewed as a “sure thing.” The experience gained by using the ECHL to transition between junior and pro levels is promising for late-blooming goaltenders.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.