If an NHL draft pick ends up in the ECHL after they turn pro, what is the probability that they will eventually play in the NHL? It is difficult for prospects to climb out of that hole and make it to the big show, but it's not impossible. Most draft picks turn pro at age 20 and complete their entry level contracts at age 22 if they are lucky enough to even get signed. Most NHL-bound players who play ECHL will do so on their Entry Level Contracts. There are also some undrafted free agents who sign in the ECHL and eventually climb the professional ladder into the NHL, like Alex Burrows. Unfortunately, I don't have a spreadsheet complete with undrafted free agent ECHL stats to determine NHL probability. We'll have to stick to drafted players for this post.
The chart below shows 2 different groups, players drafted from 2004-2012 who played >9 GP in the ECHL at age 20, 21, 22, 23, and those who play >9 AHL GP at each age. Players who played in the ECHL and AHL during the 2013 work stoppage are not included in the sample.
The first thing that's immediately clear is if your goal is to play at least one NHL game by age 25, your chances are far better if you play in the AHL instead of the ECHL, and by a wide margin. However, the ECHL is not a graveyard league for NHL careers. If a draft pick plays at least 1 ECHL games at age 20, his probability of eventually playing an NHL game is 30%; but those playing ECHL games at age 23, the probability of playing NHL games drops all the way down to 5%. On the other hand, AHL players have a decline of 68% to 57% for age 20 to 23.
The older a draft pick is when he plays in the ECHL, the smaller his probability of ever playing in the NHL, which gets close to zero if the player plays low-pro after his Entry Level Contract. The best time to play ECHL is first year pro, but even then, your probability of future success is at least doubled if you stay in the AHL; a far superior league for prospect development. If any draft picks get the phone call to report to the ECHL, it's not the end of the world, but the longer you're there, the darker the outlook. Make the most of the weaker competition and try to put up great numbers in a hopefully small sample.