Utilizing the Adirondack Thunder

Adirondack-Thunder-Logo-16-9

The
ECHL is quite often the punch line of jokes amongst hockey fans. You’ll often
hear or read “so-and-so sucks so bad he should be in the ECHL” or “he couldn’t
defend if he played in the ECHL” or “he’s an all-star calibre player… in the
ECHL.”

That’s
not nice, you guys. Be nice to the ECHL.

All
jokes aside, the ECHL is actually more important to an NHL organization’s
success than you might think which is why the Flames’ ownership went out bought
an actual franchise with real money and management has continued to take steps
to utilize their ECHL affiliate more and more.

So
let’s take a look at the importance of the Adirondack Thunder going forward and
delve into some of the names you could see in upstate New York this fall.

REMEMBER
BACK WHEN…

Let’s
go back to when Darryl Sutter was the GM of the Calgary Flames. I don’t think I
need to recap just how atrocious the prospect depth was at that time. It’s a
fact that everyone knows, like water boils at 98 degrees and the moon orbits
Earth.

With
such a complete lack of depth, the Flames had a hard time filling holes at the AHL
level let alone in the ECHL. While the Flames were affiliated with the Las
Vegas Wranglers during most of this time, there were only a handful of
prospects who actually saw time in the ECHL, and even then, not much. Hugo Carpentier spent the most time in
minor-pro (about three partial seasons with the Wranglers and Utah Grizzlies).
Others who spent a small amount of time in the ECHL included J.D. Watt, Gord Baldwin, Brad Cole
and Kevin Lalande.

The
only reason those handful of guys spent any time in Las Vegas is because there
were slightly better, older AHL veterans for Quad Cities and Abbotsford. Darryl
utilized the ECHL back then like people utilize rotary telephones today. The
Flames might as well have not even been affiliated with the ECHL during Darryl’s
tenure.

THE
NEW IMPORTANCE OF THE ECHL

This
past spring the Flames announced their purchase the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder,
including its relocation to Glens Falls, New York where it will remain the
Flames’ minor-pro affiliate.

Why
is this important? No roster limitations!

According
to ECHL rules, teams can only
carry a maximum of 20 players. Of those 20 players, only four can be veterans
(a player who is over 24 years of age and
has played 260 or more professional games). However, if a veteran is signed to
an NHL or AHL contract with an ECHL assignment provision, he does not count
towards the veteran limit.

What
this means then, is that since the Flames have complete control over the
management of the Adirondack Thunder, they can manipulate and construct the
roster as they so choose. They aren’t bound by roster limitations placed on
them from an outside manager. When the Flames were affiliated with the ECHL’s Colorado
Eagles last season, they were limited as to who they could place in the ECHL
because Colorado already had their roster set. They couldn’t simply demote,
say, Mark Cundari because the Eagles already had their maximum of four veterans
in place. Now, the Flames can set the Thunder’s roster as they choose with as
many or as few veterans and rookies as they’d like.

The
importance of this new found autonomy over their minor-pro affiliate cannot be
understated, especially with this recent surge in prospect depth. The ECHL is a
place to fine tune skills, eat up ice time, and gain confidence and humility.
Right now, the Flames are surely going to have to use it because as it stands,
the Stockton Heat are going to be stacked with young, raw talent, especially on
defense. Minutes will be hard to come by, so the Flames will be forced to
utilize the ECHL perhaps more than they ever have in their franchise history.

RECENT
SUCCESS STORIES

Not
everyone who goes to the ECHL is a “bum” or a “bust.” There have been some
recent success stories from Flames land in that regard.

Joni Ortio is the first
one that comes to mind. In 2013-14, the Flames sent him to the Alaska Aces on
account of Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald taking up the two roster spots in Abbotsford.
In Alaska he dominated four games and came back to Abbotsford. He went on to be
named the league’s top rookie net-minder.

Turner Elson toiled away in the
AHL here and there, never really accomplishing much, until he made his way to
Alaska for 39 games, including 21 playoff games in 2013-14. The next season, he
came into Calgary, impressed at training camp, and became one of Adirondack’s best
players in virtually every facet of the game, short of goaltending.

In
2013-14, John Ramage couldn’t nail
down a permanent spot on the Abbotsford Heat, so he spent 26 games, including
20 playoff games with Aces. This past season in Adirondack, Ramage became a
staple on the team’s first defensive pairing alongside Tyler Wotherspoon. He was even one of the few extras to travel with
the Calgary Flames to Anaheim in the second round of the playoffs.

KEEP
YOUR EYE ON…

When
you’re talking about prospects to keep your eye on who are likely to see time
with the Thunder, the first name that pops to mind is Patrick Sieloff. Poor, poor Sieloff. The kid’s had a real tough go
of it since being drafted. Injury after injury followed by being dropped on the
depth chart and surpassed by other prospects. It even got to the point where
head coach Ryan Huska had to move him to right wing for several games because
of crowding on the blue line and injuries up front.

Sieloff
seems like the perfect candidate to spend some time in Adirondack where he can
be given loads of playing time. What better way to learn the intricacies of
defense than playing in the ECHL’s classic pond hockey style?

The
defense in Stockton is going to be more crowded than downtown Shanghai during
rush hour this season, so you may see some faces you may not expect in
Adirondack. Perhaps one Keegan Kanzig?
It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Heck, no one expected Brett Kulak to spend 39 games in
Colorado this season, but he did and it worked wonders on fine tuning the defensive
side of his game. He looked wonderful once he got back to the AHL.

Kanzig
is the sort of player you may want to start in the ECHL. He’s a raw, angry,
overly aggressive defenseman who has never faced men before. He could use some
one-on-one time with coaching staff (which has yet to be determined) in
Adirondack. Later on, if he has shown improvement, promote him to Stockton as a
reward.

On
the forward side of things, there are a number of top-6 forwards who won’t be
getting top-6 minutes in Stockton this winter. If this plays out to be roughly
what the forward lines look like, you’ve got to send guys to the ECHL:

Wolf-Granlund-Poirier

Ferland-Arnold-Hathaway

Agostino-Reinhart-Carroll

Klimchuk-Elson-Smith

Extras:

Hanowski

Van
Brabant

Vause

Yes,
that’s assuming a lot of things. It’s assuming that Wolf, Hanowski and Reinhart
re-upped. It’s also assuming that Smith goes pro; that Ferland, Granlund or
others don’t make the Flames right out of camp; and that some of those aren’t
packaged in deals at the draft or in the offseason. That also doesn’t include the
inevitability of veteran AHLers or free agent signings. Nevertheless, by my
count, you’ve got nine potential top-6 forwards and not nearly enough minutes
in a game to give them.

Of
that group, I’d consider Van Brabant,
Morgan Klimchuk or Hunter Smith candidates for further
development in Adirondack. You almost never see first-round picks like Klimchuk
in the ECHL, so it’s unlikely, but my goodness there’s not a lot of room up
front.

One
thing is for certain: there will be some unhappy campers going to the ECHL this
season, but it won’t hurt the Flames long term success. It will be for the
better.

Chime
in and leave a comment. Let me know who you think will see considerable time
with the Adirondack Thunder this season.

  • OKG

    Great article, and I mostly agree with it. That said, I think right near the end, Sieloff was starting to find his game at D in the AHL so the ECHL might not be the best place for him. For Kanzig, I think the biggest adjustment is going to be learning the Flames’ system as he’s such a defensive-minded player. I think the AHL is a better spot for that reason.

    I’m hoping we pick up Jason Fram and Eric Roy after the draft as undrafted free agents and get them onto the ECHL team to develop further, as both IMO do have NHL potential. I’m also hoping we get John Gilmour onto an ELC after he finishes up his senior year, so he could be the first ECHLer by circumstance.

    So much rides on at least Nakladal, Wotherspoon, Ramage, or Morrison being up on the NHL squad and us cutting ties with a Cundari/Acolatse. If we’ve got 10+ Dmen next season in the AHL I the ECHL is an option for sure. It worked for Kulak.

    • I don’t see any situation in which Sieloff doesn’t start next season in the ECHL. Stockton looks to have a really young, weak blueline next season. No way Sieloff is in the AHL ahead of, say, Kulak and probably not Kanzig either, at least to start.

      As for Roy… huh? The Flames decide not to offer him a contract, and you think they’re going to offer him one anyway after (if) he passes through the draft? How does that make sense?

      If the Flames were going to sign Eric Roy, he’d be signed already. Waiting serves no purpose whatsoever.

      • The more in-depth you get analyzing Stockton’s defense next season, the more and more you begin to realize that Sieloff looks like the odd man out.

        It’s sad, I was hoping he’d become Regehr 2.0, but he’s likely to start in the ECHL and play a significant amount of time there.

  • Koolmoedee

    With Ferland waiver eligible, he’s going to have to suck badly at training camp to get demoted.

    Otherwise, he’s either making the Flames or becoming a waiver claim by another team that saw his playoffs.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I’ve always scratched my head at why the Flames were so hesitant to use the ECHL, and it was a punishment when they did.

    Vancouver had success using the ECHL with guys like Burrows spending time there. Wouldn’t you rather a player play way more minutes in his projected NHL role than force fit into a different role, or riding the bench in the AHL?

    Kulak is a good example that NHLEs achieved in the ECHL can persist in the AHL. Playing a veteran ECHL top line may be more beneficial than matching up against the 4th line AHL goon squad.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Burrows did. I’m sure there are more, but he’s the easiest to think of off the top of my head.

      Also, this list from a couple years ago.

      Most guys who do play in the ECHL and make the NHL probably only play a season (or part of one) there, but it’s not ridiculously uncommon. Unless it’s a goalie, though, chances are if a guy’s in the ECHL it means his ceiling isn’t particularly high.

    • Unless you’re absolutely a 100% bust, no one really spends a significant amount of time in the ECHL, so it really depends on your definition. To me, significant time in the ECHL would be about half a season.

      Jonathan Quick spent 38 games in the ECHL.

      Dwight King spent 20 games there.
      Devan Dubnyk – 49
      Deryk Engelland – 150
      Anton Khudobin – 95
      Vern Fiddler – 52
      David Desharnais – 90
      Michael Hutchinson – 48
      Tomas Vokoun – 42
      Rich Peverley – 84
      Alex Burrows – 138

      So there are certainly some every day NHLers. Those are just a few examples from the last few years.

      Obviously, it’s fairly uncommon, but there’s no shame in using the ECHL for development, especially when there’s not a lot of room in the AHL.

    • OKG

      With the caveat that all our prospects seem to have way more natural talent (either size or mobility), Deryk Engelland is an example.

      148 career ECHL games
      338 career AHL games
      310 career NHL games and counting

    • FlamesRule

      Leagues evolve. If the Flames are making this change and putting more prospects in the ECHL you can bet others teams are too. Compete level could be rising in the E and it could be a good thing for these guys.

  • SydScout

    Perfect place for Sieloff to find his sea-legs. There’s a very bad joke in there somewhere.

    I’m still annoyed they didn’t keep the Adirondack Flames name.

    Mike, love your work.