The East Coast Hockey League is no longer considered a last chance saloon or retirement home for those eking out the last days of their hockey career.
The majority of ECHL teams are now fully affiliated with NHL organisations and many young prospects begin their professional careers in the third tier of North American hockey.
There is still plenty of talent to be found, especially in players who fall through the cracks for one reason or another.
One that springs to mind from a Toronto perspective is Byron Froese. Drafted by Chicago, Froese never cut the ice with that organisation and ended up on an ECHL deal once a free agent.
By being a dominant offensive player and receiving a much needed opportunity, Froese transferred his form and ability onto the AHL stage for the Toronto Marlies, earning himself a new contract.
That quickly turned into an NHL contract and Froese spent the entirety of last season with the Maple Leafs after an early call-up.
Froese is exception to the rule but many from the ECHL are more than capable of stepping up to the AHL level.
So which players who made a strong impression last season could be the ones to make an impact in 2016/17?
The Allen Americans have won two consecutive championships and Chad Costello is a huge reason why.
The 29yo RW has produced a combined 228 points during the last two regular season, on both occasions hitting the ton mark. In 49 combined playoff games, the Iowa native has contributed 16 goals and 64 points.
For such a dominant player at this level (who wins virtually every award possible), the un-drafted Costello has received very few opportunities to succeed in the American Hockey League.
In forty AHL games, the Allen Americans Captain has recorded three goals and 14 assists.
His best stint was his most recent with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2012/13 season, for whom he recorded three goals and twelve points in 21 games.
Costello is signed up to another year with the Americans (affiliated to San Jose) but whether the 5’9” winger receives an AHL opportunity is anyone’s guess.
The second leading scorer this past season plays for the Colorado Eagles and also captain’s his team like Costello.
The 31yo is somewhat of an ECHL stalwart with 451 games to his name and is only 15 points shy of the 500 mark.
Daavettila’s opportunities in the AHL have been even more limited than Costello’s, with just 22 games under his belt.
Those chances to impress have been varied and diverse for the Michigan native, whose last AHL stint came back during the 2013-14 season for Lake Erie. A goal and two assists in three games wasn’t quite enough of an impression and he’s not had a sniff in the AHL since.
The multi-functional forward may be hindered by the fact Colorado are not currently affiliated and that many teams are looking for younger players to fill holes in their rosters.
Fresh out of playing NCAA hockey for University of New Hampshire, Matt Willows signed for the Worcester Sharks toward the back end of the 2014/15 season.
Three goals and two assists in eleven games, was a promising start to the Right Winger’s professional career and earned him an Entry Level Contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Neither the NHL or AHL would call upon the 24yo’s services and Willows season was spent with the Florida Everblades. Making the most of his opportunity in the ECHL, the NY native racked up 66 points in 71 games and produced at point per game pace through six playoff outings.
The diminutive forward (5’9”) swept the rookie awards and has been rewarded by signing an AHL contract with San Jose Barracuda, where he should have a good chance to crack their roster.
Mike Kirkpatrick is a latecomer to the professional game.
Four years spent with the Saint John Sea Dogs were followed by the same amount of time playing CIS hockey at St. Francis Xavier University.
The 26yo signed for Stockton Heat but was re-assigned to Adirondack Thunder for the entirety of the 2015-16 season.
A low-scoring Thunder team were thankful for Kirkpatrick’s efforts in his professional rookie year.
The right-handed forward tallied 29 goals and sixty points through 72 games, also registering a further nine points in 12 playoff games.
The Nova Scotia native is currently unsigned as a I write.
The 25yo defenseman has made a big impact in his two season spent in the ECHL.
The fan favourite of the Brampton Beast put up 43 points in 69 games but would request a trade early in the 2015/16 with a wish to be a part of the Wheeling Nailers.
A Toronto native, Maione had an exceptional season. After netting ten points in 17 games for Brampton, he went on to accrue a further 44 points in 53 regular season games for Wheeling.
The Nailers made it all the way to the Kelly Cup Finals, in no small part due to Maione’s 23 points in 26 games.
With the most assists and points by a defenseman and named to the First ECHL All-Star team, Maione was the league’s defenseman of the year.
Currently unsigned at the time of writing, his signature will be sought by many a team.
Mychan led the ECHL in goals with 32 tallies through 63 games in somewhat of an unexpected return to North America.
The Left Winger had spent 2014/15 in the UK’s elite league with the Cardiff Devils, but made just a moderate impact as regards production.
So a homecoming of sorts to Colorado , where he’d spent 2014/15, was somewhat unexpected but a triumphant season.
Adding 23 assists to his 32 goals, 24yo Mychan eclipsed the numbers produced during his rookie professional year with the ECHL Eagles, while also cutting down his penalty minutes down by a hundred and fighting majors by a third.
The Saskatoon native had a two game stint on loan with San Jose Barracuda last season without troubling the scorers and is currently unsigned but surely not without suitors.
Parker Milner shared the goaltending duties with Josh Robinson last season and both were excellent for Missouri Mavericks. The latter had slightly the better overall statistics but Milner’s 17-7 record , a 2.17 GAA and .925 SV% are not to be sniffed at.
In three seasons of professional hockey, the 25yo has had three short spells in the AHL and endured a nightmare debut for the notoriously bad Iowa Wild.
A six game stint with Bridgeport (he was signed with the Sound Tigers) during 2015/16 saw Milner in a different light as he played well on a mostly struggling team.
The Pittsburgh native has earned himself a contract with Hershey, although he’s no certainty to take a spot with the Bears.
The Quebec native was drafted by the Montréal Canadiens in 2011 (108th overall) but would not be offered an entry level contract despite playing ten games for their AHL affiliate during the penultimate season of his junior career.
The Iowa Wild took a chance on the Left Winger but he was only given 24 games in his rookie professional year, accruing four goals and five assists in the process
Point per game pace at the ECHL level for Alaska Aces provided some hope that he could make the step up last season, but it wasn’t to be.
The 23yo was handed just six chances at the AHL level, while his ECHL right were traded to Quad City Mallards (affiliate of Iowa).
Archambault had himself an impressive 2015/16, with 22 goals and 52 points in 50 games.
Currently unsigned, I’d be surprised if at least an AHL standard team doesn’t take a gamble on a player who projected to be a better talent than he’s shown thus far.