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The ECHL’s Toledo Walleye have continued to pluck undervalued talent from the NCAA to build on their perennial success with the addition of defenseman Butrus Ghafari from the Michigan State Spartans.
Ghafari joined the Walleye at the end of the Spartans’ 2019-20 season, where he skated in one game with the Walleye prior to ECHL season cancellation due to COVID-19. It was enough to earn Ghafari another contract for 2020-21.
🚨 PLAYER ANNOUNCEMENT(S) 🚨— Toledo Walleye (@ToledoWalleye) June 29, 2020
We've inked defenseman Butrus Ghafari for the 2020-21 season. 📝
𝙎𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙 𝙛𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙖𝙧? Butrus appeared in one game for us last season. pic.twitter.com/CTSelJ8Z6e
The 24-year-old is carving out a stay-at-home hockey career both through his development in Michigan and his defensive style. The Detroit native spent 2009-12 playing in the Michigan-based Compuware AAA program.
Ghafari moved up to the USHL for the 2012-13 season, where he split four years of action between the Fargo Force in North Dakota and Bloomington Thunder in Illinois. He then returned to his home state to play for Michigan State from 2016-2020.
During his four years at MSU, Ghafari was a staple on the backend, where he skated in 114 of 143 possible games with the Spartans including all 36 games during his senior season. He finished his collegiate career with nine points (4 G, 5 A) and a minus-25 defensive rating — which is more reflective of a weak team; still, Ghafari would improve in that category in each of his four seasons.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, a defender of Ghafari’s stature typically suggests an offensive tilt, but he’s another player rewriting what it means to play his position, regardless of size.
Ghafari models his game off of two-time Stanley Cup winner Brooks Orpik, citing his physicality, aggressiveness, and leadership. Three qualities that never went unnoticed.
“His competitiveness and willingness to do the hard things to be a good defenseman will translate well into the pro game. He never takes a shift off. He also is a very good leader and teammate,” Spartans coach Danton Cole told Mark Monroe of The Blade in July.
The Walleye are on a six-year playoff streak, including the canceled 2019-20 season in which they were second in the Central Division and a playoff berth was imminent. In that time, they have made it to the third round three times and were the Kelly Cup runners-up in 2018-19.
Their success has been largely built on finding NCAA alumni like Ghafari: stable, dedicated to improving, and motivated to continue their hockey career. Last season, that alumni was made up of 10 forwards, five defensemen, and all three goaltenders.
While the roster is continuing to take shape for the upcoming 2020-21 season, the eight signed defensemen contain five NCAA alumni including rookies Ghafari, Gordi Meyer, and Chris McKay. With a surge of young defenseman, and four of each left-handed and right-handed signed, there will be a lot of competition for playing time — and Ghafari’s aggressiveness will be pivotal in earning that time.
With the split initial schedule for the 2020-21 ECHL season, the Walleye will be in the group of 13 teams set to begin their season on Jan. 15 for a 62-game season. The other 13 teams will be facing off in a full 72-game season beginning on Dec. 11. All playoff positions will be based on regular-season points percentage following the regular season.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.