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Former Ottawa Senators farmhand appreciates Toronto’s different take on the ECHL
Aaron Luchuk, thanks to an agent with his ear to the ground, had a feeling something might go down last July 1 with a trade from the Ottawa Senators, the only professional organization Luchuk had ever known.
“I’d talked to my agent the night before July 1 and he said, ‘Don’t wait by the phone or anything, but yeah, something might happen.’
“The next morning at six o’clock, he was awoken by a phone call from Sens general manager Pierre Dorion.”
Luchuk, was traded all right, and not just to any NHL organization like the Arizona Coyotes or Columbus Blue Jackets.
He was going to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of a deal that saw Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur head to Toronto in exchange for Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Michael Carcone.
It was probably a case of the Sens wanting the Leafs to pick up an NHL contract given the fact Ottawa was taking on three contracts, while initially giving up two.
Either way, Luchuk, just wrapping up his first season as a pro, was thrilled to be headed to the Leafs, his favourite team as a young man.
Despite hailing from Kingston, Ont., which may be closer to Ottawa than Toronto, Luchuk and his dad were Leaf fans, perhaps influenced by Kingston product, former Leaf and Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour.
But the main reason Luchuk was excited to be joining the Leafs organization?
“They do things a little differently here than what I was used to in Ottawa,” he said.
The 22-year-old pivot had a decent rookie campaign in the Sens’ system. After signing an NHL contract, one year after winning the Ontario Hockey League’s scoring title as an overager split between Windsor and Barrie, he appeared in 27 games with the AHL’s Belleville Senators, and also dressed for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast.
“People in hockey know the Leafs now place a great emphasis on development,” he said. “They do a really good job here, so I’m happy where I’m at. Snowy (Newfoundland Growlers ECHL coach John Snowden) has been really good with me. The entire organization has been great. From the moment I got traded here, I’ve had absolutely no complaints. Obviously, everyone wants to move up in their career, but I’m happy with where I am right now.”
And the Growlers are happy to have Luchuk, whose 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) are three behind Giorgio Estephan (currently with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies) for the team lead. Luchuk is 11th overall in ECHL scoring.
A 2017 Memorial Cup winner with the Windsor Spitfires, Luchuk was a 2017-18 OHL all-star and the top overage player in the league that season. He was undrafted,, but was signed by the Sens to a three-year, entry level NHL contract after his final year of junior.
Despite sliding down a notch on the pro hockey ladder, after 27 AHL starts in Belleville last season, Luchuk had no problem reporting to the ECHL Growlers, the reigning Kelly Cup champs.
“Not a lot of NHL organizations pay a lot of attention to their ECHL affiliate,” he said. “It’s why I have no complaints down here. I think a lot of people may feel slighted or whatever to be in the ECHL, but a lot of guys in this dressing room all have an understanding that this organization, like I said, does things kind of differently.
“There’s a lot of emphasis from the ECHL on up.”
This season alone, 11 Growlers have been moved up a level to play games for the Marlies. That includes Luchuk, who appeared in three AHL games earlier this season,
Two players from last year’s Growlers championship team – Kristians Rubins and Hudson Elynuik — made the Marlies out of training camp.
“This is a real good spot to be,” Luchuk said. “I love this city, and this province. And it’s nice to know if you do succeed, they reward their players. They just don’t bury you here.
“It’s nice to know they care, because a lot of NHL organizations don’t care about their ECHL affiliates. I enjoy being here, and I take pride in working hard every day so that when I do get that chance in Toronto, I’ll fit right in.”
Before that happens, the Growlers would like to take care of some business tonight at Mile One Centre.
Newfoundland (35-11-1) tangles with the Maine Mariners 7 p.m. at Mile One, and at stake is a new ECHL record.
The Growlers have won 18 straight home games, tying them with the 1994-95 South Carolina Stingrays.
A 19th consecutive win tonight would establish a new league standard.