Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How ECHL graduates to the NHL are changing

The Gwinnett Gladiators have recently had three former players make the NHL -- Kevin Doell, Pascal Pelletier and Colin Stuart. All three are forwards. They join three former goaltenders who had previously made it (Munro, Garnett and Berkhoel). It's not surprising that there was some time lag for skaters to debut, as they tend to work their way up the ranks in a more linear fashion than goaltenders. But anyway, the event sparked some discussion, but there weren't many numbers floating around to back it up.

About three and half years ago I wrote an article about the record-breaking 2003-04 season in which 40 former ECHLers made the show (record later eclipsed by 47 in 2005-06). The article was data-heavy, mostly demographics. So far this season, 15 players have made it, which is a good pace for late January. Today I looked at the demographics to compare this crop to the 2003-04 crop (essentially four years apart). Below is a chart of the highlights.

In a nutshell, this year's graduates played in the ECHL longer, scored more while they were there, and are scoring more in the NHL as well. More of them had NHL contracts while they played in the ECHL, though the percentage of those who were ever drafted was similar. This goes hand in hand with something Dan Marr said the other night, that the ECHL is getting younger (more developmental).

ECHL graduates to the NHL in 2003-04 vs. 2007-08

2003-04 2007-08
Position 20% G, 10% D 27% G, 0% D
ECHL GP 33 gp (range 0-98) 55 gp (range 5-174)
No. of ECHL seasons 70% one season 47% one season

20% two seasons 33% two seasons

10% three seasons 20% three seasons
Age at NHL debut 24 (range 20-33) 24 (range 21-28)
Drafted 65% 67%
Avg no. in draft 121st 127th
ECHL ppg .74 1.04
NHL ppg .23 .32
ECHL PIMS/gp 2.4 1.4
NHL contract one-half two-thirds

Interestingly, none of the graduates this year have been defensemen. Only 10% were defensemen in 2003-04. Goaltenders remain disproportionately represented. The total career ECHL games went up pretty dramatically, from 33 to 55, meaning players are spending longer in the league before moving up. The number of seasons among which the 55 games were spread was longer too. Over half spent more than one season in the ECHL.

The age of NHL debut and the percentage drafted stayed the same, as did the average draft slot. Points scored per game in the ECHL is up significantly, and the NHL scoring follows it. It's a more skilled player who is making it. As further evidence of this, the average penalty minutes per game in the ECHL by the graduates is also down.

As always, the best way to increase your odds of making it to the NHL out of the ECHL is to have an NHL contract while you're there. Two-thirds of players who made it this year had NHL contracts to start with.

Kevin Doell stands out as the oldest of this year's crop to make it, at age 28. Colin Stuart is tied with Daniel Winnik with the fewest ECHL games played at five. He was barely with the team and didn't really belong here at the time, but that's water under the bridge now.

You can view a complete list of the 345 ECHL alumni here.

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