McKenna’s Musings: Why the ECHL is Better Than You Think

What a debacle in Vegas – but what about those fans?

Evgenii Dadonov did nothing wrong. He’s been a useful player for the Golden Knights. Of course, his $5 million contract is probably a bit rich considering his goalscoring output. But obviously he did everything that was asked of him. Work hard. Was a good teammate. And all that.

I could go on a rant about how the NHL needs a system to track no-trade lists. Because it is. And the lists must remain confidential. There must be a way to achieve this, although I don’t have the solution.

But what I really want to highlight is the Golden Knights fans. The team has been struggling lately. Vegas is buried with injuries and faces a salary cap nightmare. There was not much to celebrate.

Until the starting lineup was announced last night. Dadonov received a huge ovation from the crowd. Fans effectively took away the drama that began on Monday, when the Golden Knights traded Dadonov to the Anaheim Ducks only to have the trade canceled by the NHL after several days of investigation.

What a huge lift for a player whose professional life has been in limbo – and not on his own initiative. Dadonov responded by scoring a goal and adding two assists. He was the second star of the game and probably should have been the first. The Golden Knights won 6-1 over the Nashville Predators in a game with Stanley Cup Playoff implications.

It’s a great example of why Vegas functions like a hockey marketplace: the local fan base loves the players. It hasn’t been easy for them lately. Many of their favorites have been traded. But on Friday night, the fans helped the Golden Knights — and Dadonov in particular — to a big win over the Predators.

I have a lot of love for the people of Vegas.

The ECHL is a better league than you think, and Hayden Hodgson is proof of that.

I started my career in the ECHL, playing two seasons for the Las Vegas Wranglers. And I’m very grateful that I did, because there was no way I was ready for the AHL after finishing my NCAA career at St. Lawrence University.

Enter Hayden Hodgson, who made his NHL debut Friday night with the Philadelphia Flyers after spending four seasons in the ECHL. He not only took the ice, but made an impact. Hodgson had an assist on Travis Konecny’s goal at 6:37 of the first period. Then Hodgson went on to repot one of his own midway through the third period. Hodgson is a big body and his presence was felt – the Flyers forward had four hits.

What interests me about Hodgson is that he started his pro AHL career in 2017 with the Cleveland Monsters. He had six points in 41 games and also spent time in the ECHL. I can’t help wondering: would he have been better off spending the whole season at the AA level, rather than the AHL? Would it have helped his development?

It took Hodgson three years to get another shot at the AHL. He made the Lehigh Valley Phantoms roster this season and hasn’t looked back. In 44 games, Hodgson scored 18 goals and racked up 70 penalty minutes.

The Flyers rewarded him with an NHL contract just before the trade deadline. He deserved it. And Hodgson is proof that if a player goes to the ECHL and uses their time wisely, it can be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

There have been countless goaltenders, myself included, who spent time in the ECHL before making it to the NHL. It’s less common in attackers and defenders. But once in a while, a player like Alex Burrows, Tanner Jeannot or Hayden Hodgson comes along and reminds everyone: the ECHL is not a joke. There are some good players in this league, and NHL teams would do well to pay attention to them.

Will the real St. Louis Blues please rise?

Talk about a frustrating team. There are nights when the Blues are totally dominant. Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas skate like the Globetrotters and everything turns to gold. But there are also games like Thursday’s against the Philadelphia Flyers, where the Blues look disjointed and directionless.

The Blues have a roster that should be a Stanley Cup contender. They have three strong forward lines and a defensive corps that was recently bolstered by the addition of Nick Leddy at the trade deadline. Ville Husso has been outstanding in net, but he’s yet to fully bank on the crease with Jordan Binnington still in the mix.

Consistency is the key word in Saint-Louis. On Thursday night, the Blues had a long stretch of offensive zone time against the Flyers in the third period – probably worth three minutes – before an untimely turnover resulted in a goal against.

It’s a microcosm of the season so far in St. Louis. And one reason why I don’t think the Blues are really ready to fight for another Stanley Cup. Too often they shoot themselves in the foot.

The Blues walk a fine line between skill and courage. They have to play hard to win. But they must also give their talent creative license to make plays. The key for me is puck support. If the Blues pass 10-15 feet and move across the ice in unison, it’s good. If they throw cross passes from 20 to 25 feet, they go.

The remedy is skating. The Blues need to do a better job of positioning themselves – with speed. I give Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly a ton of credit. He works incredibly hard. But his teammates need to do a better job of following his example.

The Blues have talent. But they have yet to show that they are a cohesive enough unit to make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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