The New York Islanders officially announced their new ECHL affiliate today after reaching an agreement with the new Worcester (Massachusetts) Railers.
For the last two seasons, the Islanders had shared an ECHL affiliation with the Missouri Mavericks outside of Kansas City, Missouri, with the St. Louis Blues the other NHL partner there. Now the Islanders will have their own affiliate, but more importantly that affiliate will be much closer to their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers — roughly two hours’ drive, says the Google robot — and the Islanders themselves (wherever they call home).
That convenience isn’t a small thing. While players in the ECHL tend not to be NHL-bound (though there are many, many exceptions, from the classic example of Jonathan Quick to the “he’s underrated, now he’s overrated, now he’s paid too much” saga of Andrew MacDonald), the Isles actually used their ECHL affiliation quite a bit, shuffling players up and down as injuries, roles, and roster space warranted.
It’s fair to expect they’ll use that even more now that they have an affiliate so close to Bridgeport, and one looking to get off the ground in their first season in the ECHL. What’s more, now the development coaches in New York and Bridgeport will have much easier access to those prospects.
“The Railers were looking for a strong affiliation in which the parent team supplies several contract players and Worcester figures to get at least one goalie from the Isles and probably a couple of defensemen and two or three forwards.”
The affiliation is a one-year agreement — likely a trial phase for both sides as they look to build a relationship.
Worcester, Islanders ECHL History
Worcester last had minor pro hockey in 2015, when the Worcester Sharks moved West in the AHL’s great Western migration to create more affiliates closer to the NHL’s Pacific teams.
Several players under Islanders contracts saw time in the ECHL last season, including trade acquisitions Matthew Finn and Carter Verhaeghe as well as Islanders draft picks Eamon McAdam, Kyle Schempp and Jesse Graham.
Players on the NHL roster who have experience in the ECHL include all three goalies, J.F. Berube, Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak, plus forwards Connor Jones and Alan Quine.
While Quine only has 15 ECHL games in his career, eight of them were in the playoffs with Stockton, the Islanders’ affiliate in 2013-14. He’s an example of the kind of draft pick who can benefit from the longer development curve allowed by having an ECHL affiliate. For several of the success stories, it’s a matter of being able to get more game reps and more important roles while the parent team has a full roster or, as in that season’s case, already missing the playoffs.
So no, the ECHL is not a garden where your stars grow. But having a strong affiliate does allow flexibility to build depth, internal competition and injury insurance.