One of the primary roles of the Toledo Walleye organization is to develop players to help them reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Six former Walleye players have accomplished the ultimate goal and open the 2018-19 season with NHL teams:
■ Right wing Martin Frk (2013-15): Detroit Red Wings
■ Center/right wing Luke Glendening (2012-13): Detroit Red Wings
■ Goaltender Carter Hutton (2011-12): Buffalo Sabres
■ Defenseman Nick Jensen 2013-14): Detroit Red Wings
■ Defenseman Jacob MacDonald (2016-17): Florida Panthers
■ Goaltender Petr Mrazek (2012-13): Carolina Hurricanes
Cach Dan Watson said it is extremely gratifying to see his former pupils advance to the top level.
“It's really special to see these guys fulfill their dreams and accomplish their goals,” Watson said. “To go see them playing or see them playing on TV, in the best league in the world, is a great feeling.”
Frk averaged more than a point per game when he began his pro career in Toledo in 2013-14. The native of the Czech Republic, who already possessed a heavy shot that was one of the hardest in the ECHL, had 28 goals and 23 assists in 44 games with Toledo.
Frk tallied a hat trick for the Walleye during a 2015 playoff elimination game in the conference finals, including the game-winner, against South Carolina. He finished with 13 points in 14 postseason games for Toledo before earning promotions through the Red Wings organization and reaching the NHL last season.
Glendening also got his start in Toledo after a four-year college career at the University of Michigan. In his first 27 games as a rookie in 2012-13, Glendening tallied 21 points with 14 goals and seven assists. Glendening was selected to represent Toledo at the ECHL all-star game but was promoted to Grand Rapids and never returned. He now has been a reliable bottom-six forward for the Red Wings the past six seasons.
MacDonald, who quickly became a fan favorite in Toledo, is the latest Walleye player to make his NHL debut when he steps on the ice for Florida on Saturday at Tampa Bay. Watson acquired MacDonald in a trade with Elmira heading into his first season at the helm and MacDonald made an instant impact to start the 2016-17 season.
MacDonald posted seven goals and 19 assists in 30 games and was selected to represent Toledo at the all-star game. Instead, MacDonald earned a call-up to Albany of the AHL, signed a contract there, and never returned as he worked his way up to earn a spot with the Panthers.
Hutton was one of seven different goalies that saw time for the Walleye in 2011-12. Hutton played in 14 games and posted a 7-7-0 record with a 3.15 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. Hutton then went on to play for the Blackhawks, Predators, Blues, and now the Sabres.
Jensen also was a rookie when he played in just three games for the Walleye in 2013-14. He did not register a point and played most of his first season in Grand Rapids, then made his NHL debut in 2016-17.
Mrzaek also appeared in just three games for the Walleye in 2012-13. The native of the Czech Republic went 2-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA. He then quickly worked his way up Detroit's system and made his NHL debut that same season, playing four full seasons for the Red Wings. He was traded to Philadelphia last year and signed with Carolina in the offseason.
Former Walleye head coach Derek Lalonde also will make his debut as an assistant in the NHL this season with the Lightning. Lalonde came to Toledo in 2014-15 and led the team to the greatest turnaround in ECHL history. Lalonde is credited with establishing a culture of winning in Toledo, with the Walleye winning their division every season since.
Former Walleye goaltender Tom McCollum became the first player in the organization's history to be called up to the NHL when he suited up for the Red Wings on March 30, 2011.
Since then 16 other players have earned their way up from Toledo to play under the brightest of lights. Seven have played for Toledo's NHL parent club, the Red Wings.
“Our goal is to make them better as players and people,” Watson said.
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