The Next Wave Of NHL Goalies Using The ECHL As A Transition League

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Last week, FloHockey explored the ECHL’s strong tie to Stanley Cup goaltenders; this week we continue to look at those ties with goalies who could help add to those ties at some point in the future.

Since the 2000-01 season, nine of the 19 franchises that have gone on to win the Stanley Cup have had a goalie with ECHL experience on their playoff roster, including two teams — the Washington Capitals in 2018 and Los Angeles Kings in 2014 — in which both netminders were ECHL alumni.

Several late-round goaltending prospects are currently in the same process of using the ECHL as a transition league, or have recently graduated from it, as they attempt to develop toward the end-goal of the NHL. 

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 

Drafted in the second round (54th overall) in 2017 by the Buffalo Sabres, Luukkonen split time between Buffalo’s AHL and ECHL affiliates in 2019-20.

Luukkonen posted strong, consistent seasons in his homeland of Finland, where he won gold and silver medals in 2016 and 2017, respectively, on Finland’s U18 World Junior Championship team. In 2017, he backstopped HPK U20 to the league title in Finland’s Jr. A SM-Liiga.

As a 19-year-old, Luukkonen posted a strong rookie season in the OHL in 2018-19, but his transition to the AHL in 2019-20 was rough, as is the case for many young goaltenders. In 10 games, Luukkonen had a 3.15 GAA and .874 SV%. Buffalo opted to send the 20-year-old down to the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, where he posted a 12-7-3 record with a 2.24 GAA and .912 SV%.



Despite Buffalo’s ongoing woes and playoff drought dating back to the 2010-11 season, the young team has a lot of potential at every position. With an expanding core of Jack Eichel, Dylan Cozens, and Rasmus Dahlin, Luukkonen will eventually get his chance to stabilize the crease in Buffalo and possibly help lead the team to contention. 

Dan Vladar

The perennial contender Boston Bruins have a good young goalie ripening in the farm system ready to earn some NHL time in 2020-21. Drafted in the third round (75th overall) in 2015, Vladar could be the long-term solution once Tuukka Rask is gone.

Vladar has developed quickly given his strong numbers for a 23-year-old goaltender. In similar fashion to Luukkonen, the Czech-native came to North America in 2015-16 and had a solid rookie season in the USHL with a 2.31 GAA and .920 SV% despite a 12-12-1-3 record.

From 2016-18, Vladar bounced between Boston’s AHL and ECHL squads, spending the bulk of time gaining traction with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators. In those two seasons, Vladar posted a 2.40 GAA and .923 SV% in 12 AHL games.

Vladar moved to the AHL’s Providence Bruins full-time in 2018-19, where he finished the year with a 2.73 GAA and .898 SV% in 31 games. Vladar would adjust and be a top goalie in the AHL in 2019-20 with a 1.79 GAA and .936 SV% in 25 games.

He’s destined to receive his first NHL action in 2020-21, where a transition to a full-time NHL job is likely in 2021-22. Vladar’s promising development could keep the Bruins in Stanley Cup contention for the foreseeable future.

Connor Ingram

Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round (88th overall) in 2016, Ingram has been an extremely consistent goalie during every step of his development.

With just 16 games of ECHL experience from 2017-19, split between the Adirondack Thunder and Orlando Solar Bears, Ingram holds a 2.29 GAA and .937 SV%. But the 23-year-old still managed to take a step forward in 2019-20 as one of the top goaltenders in the AHL with a 21-5-5 record, 1.92 GAA, and .933 SV%. 



Nashville acquired Ingram for the low price of a seventh-round pick. He’s stuck behind Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, two legitimate NHL goaltenders on the Predators. But his inclusion into the farm system is insurance with Rinne entering the last year of his deal and Saros’ inconsistent play.

Additionally, Nashville drafted Yaroslav Askarov with the 11th overall pick in 2020, who has been labeled the top goaltender in the 2020 draft class. Something in the trio of Saros, Ingram, and Askarov has to give eventually, but the contending Predators’ Stanley Cup window will remain open for several more years.

Filip Larsson

Drafted in the sixth round (167th overall) in 2016 by the Detroit Red Wings, Larsson was developing steadily prior to the ECHL in 2019-20. Larsson had mostly underwhelming numbers prior to his draft year, but has taken a significant step since coming to North America.

In 2017-18, Larsson won Goaltender of the Year in the USHL with a league-leading 1.75 GAA and .941 SV% in 30 games. He would continue his development with Denver of the NCAA where he finished his 22-game stint with a 1.95 GAA and .932 SV%.

Larsson signed with the Red Wings following his freshman season with Denver, where he was thrown into the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Through seven games, where he had a 4.01 GAA and .843 SV%, he was visibly not ready for the AHL. The 21-year-old was sent to the ECHL, where he fared better with a 2.72 GAA and .910 SV% through 10 games. He’s likely to split time again in the ECHL in 2020-21.

The Red Wings don’t have an encouraging prospect system in regards to goaltending, with all due respect to Keith Petruzzelli of Maine in the NCAA. That means that, should Larsson turn his development around and take the next step in the ECHL and AHL, he’ll earn a chance in the NHL before long. The team is several years away from significant playoff action, but Larsson has shown he could be there when that time comes.

Honorable Mentions: Toronto Maple Leafs back-up Jack Campbell, Philadelphia Flyers prospect Kirill Ustimenko.


Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.

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