By Mary Walsh
Seven players have returned to the San Francisco Bulls for a second season. Team Captain Scott Langdon, forward Kris Belan and defenseman Dylan King all signed again early in ECHL free agency. Last week, Dean Ouellet and Jordan Morrison returned from a stint in the Kazakh league to rejoin the Bulls. Christian Ouellet and Brett Findlay, rookies who impressed last season, are also back. These players are not the only ones showing confidence in the San Francisco Bulls organization.
The San Jose Sharks renewed their affiliation with the Bulls in late August, but they had already given the organization a significant stamp of approval last season. They sent seven prospects to San Francisco from Worcester, including five skaters. This season, Bulls President and Head Coach Pat Curcio expects the Sharks to continue sending prospects to the ECHL:
We could have possibly ten guys from [the Sharks]. They signed a lot of players, and they signed them with the intention [that they will] have a place to put them. So our relationship’s been great and I’m real excited.
The Sharks are happy with the arrangement as well. In their August press release about the renewed affiliation, GM Doug Wilson explained: “We had an extremely positive relationship with the Bulls last season as a development vehicle for players within our system and we look forward to continuing that agreement.” -San Jose Sharks
Prior to their affiliation with the Bulls, the Sharks used the ECHL primarily for goaltender development. The Sharks have the option of using many places to develop players, including Canadian Junior leagues and university programs. The AHL has no cap and no roster limit, so in theory a team could use an AHL team to stash all their prospects without regard to whether there was room on the ice for them or not. Of course, that is not ideal. It is far better to have a pro hockey environment where your prospects can play a lot of minutes.
On the other hand, teams don’t want want to send young talent into a meat grinder. The ECHL is shedding a reputation for being a lawless slug-fest, and becoming a league where talent can be showcased and developed. That San Jose felt confident enough to send so many players to San Francisco in its first season speaks very well for the Bulls.
It also speaks well for the ECHL, as other NHL teams are also investing more talent in the Triple A league. The ECHL is an increasingly viable stepping stone in pro hockey development. In theory, this could also improve the level of play in the AHL, by giving less experienced players a different team to develop with. AHL players could come to the NHL more ready for having been in a system tailored to the needs of experienced prospects.
While the team has bolstered its connection to the AHL and the NHL, the Bulls still have a grass-roots element. In mid-September, the team held open tryouts. From that group, Anthony Taylor was chosen to participate in the team’s main training camp. He will also play in at least one pre-season game. The tryouts gave the Bulls a chance to scope out available talent that they might need through the season, as Curcio explains:
You’re going to need players that are readily available at the drop of a hat. If a player gets injured on a Thursday night and [someone] has to fly out Friday to Worcester or San Jose, it’s hard to find a player over night. You need some good players that are local.
The Bulls will play two pre-season games at the Cow Palace, on Thursday, October 10 and Saturday, October 12. Puck drop at 7:30 pm. Their regular season home opener will be on Friday, November 8 against the Bakersfield Condors.