The Washington Capitals and the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays have extended their affiliation agreement through the 2025-26 season, per a team release Thursday morning.
The upcoming 2023-24 season will be the 10th consecutive campaign the Capitals and Stingrays have been affiliated with each other. The Capitals were also previously affiliated with South Carolina from 2004 to 2012.
In the combined 17 seasons of affiliation, the Stingrays have only missed the playoffs twice. Considering Washington’s prioritization of minor league success with their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, South Carolina’s strong play at the ECHL level comes as little surprise.
Their success includes winning the Kelly Cup in 2009 and clinching three conference championships since 2015. The Stingrays achieved a record of 45-22-4-1 this season, finishing first in the ECHL’s South Division and second in the Eastern Conference.
Capitals senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan issued the following statement:
We are pleased to renew our partnership with the South Carolina Stingrays. For several seasons, the Stingrays have provided our prospects a winning environment in which they can develop, and we are looking forward to continuing our affiliation.
While it’s rare for any high-end NHL prospects to see ECHL time, aside from the occasional goaltender, ECHL teams still directly influence organizational success. AHL and ECHL teams maintain tight relationships, and a winning culture at one level tends to bleed through to the other. These affiliates can also prove vital in developing more raw prospects not quite ready for extended AHL time, something the Capitals exhibited this season.
Five players who participated in games for South Carolina this season attended the Capitals’ 2022 training camp. Among them were forward Bear Hughes, defensemen Martin Has and Benton Maass, and goaltenders Garin Bjorklund and Clay Stevenson.
Hughes, the Capitals’ fifth-round draft pick in 2020, proved himself a valuable asset for the Stingrays with 36 assists and 59 points this season. However, Washington no longer holds his exclusive signing rights. Stevenson, who joined the Capitals as a free agent in March 2022, seamlessly transitioned to pro hockey ECHL, ranking among the league leaders in various statistical categories, and showing he may be a potential call-up option for Washington in 2023-24.