Sometimes, all you need to do to make it in the NHL is get your foot in the door. It’s the same with just about any job, but NHL lore is full of stories of guys who took advantage of opportunities and never looked back.
This is what Tyler Eckford is doing. He, or he and his agent, see what the Devils are trying to do with Ilya Kovalchuk and know a cap crunch could be looming. They also know that only Andy Greeen has proven offensive skill among New Jersey blueliners. Anssi Salmela has some skill, but is not a proven NHL defenseman and will start the season on the injured reserve. Salmela had knee surgery for a torn ACL at the end of May and is expected to miss at least four months. That puts his return to the ice at the end of September or beginning of October and gives the prospects like Eckford even more of an opportunity to impress at training camp.
The Devils have some forwards with experience playing the point, such as Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston, so watch how their status with the Devils progresses to get a better read of Eckford’s short-term offensive opportunities.
Another wise move by the Eckford camp, which might seem puzzling, is that his recently signed contract calls for him to earn the league minimum if he makes the NHL. His NHL salary is lower than it was last year, but he’s doing what he can to squeeze onto the Devils’ roster and help them stay under the cap. Why quibble over a $100,000 when it could be the difference between the AHL and the NHL? Get your foot in the door, prove how good you are, then make it up on your next contract. That’s good strategy from Eckford and his agent, especially in light of the Devils’ blueline situation. Paul Martin left via free agency, Johnny Oduya was shipped out in the Kovalchuk trade, and Mike Mottau is a UFA and still unsigned.
Eckford has been featured in the last three Dobber Fantasy Prospect Reports, so his name should be familiar to hard-core prospectors. The former seventh-round pick is poised to make the jump to the NHL, so if you’re sitting on him, kudos to you. If he’s still available in your league, you might not be able to get him as late as you’d hoped.
He has decent size, skates well and moves the puck well. He even impressed Jacques Lemaire last year during a brief stint and Lemaire doesn’t impress easily. The skill that Eckford needs to improve – defence – is a skill that can be learned.
Angus posted a link in the ramblings Thursday to a great article about Eckford on SB Nation.
If you haven’t read it already, check it out. It’s a pretty balanced look at Eckford and it recognizes the warts in his game, but it also reveals Eckford’s strengths and lays out the opportunity that lies before him this fall.
I was hoping to pick him up as a late pick in my keeper league this summer, but looks like I might have to take him earlier. He turns 25 in September and has two full seasons in the AHL under his belt. He’s shown steady progression in his production in the BCHL, NCAA and in the AHL.