Less than three years ago, Erik Burgdoerfer was an unknown ECHL defenseman playing his fourth season with the Bakersfield Condors.
Tonight against the Washington Capitals, after a stunning 429 minor league games, Burgdoerfer will make his NHL debut with the Buffalo Sabres.
“I’m wondering how the heck, from what I’ve seen so far, (he) played five years in the East Coast Hockey League,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said during training camp. “Somebody somewhere has missed something, because the way he’s played he should be playing at a higher level. He should’ve been playing at higher level than that.”
Who is Burgdoerfer? How did the undrafted R.P.I. product finally reach the NHL just days before his 28th birthday?
We’ll pick up his story in 2014, after his coach in Bakersfield, Troy Mann, was hired to run the Hersey Bears, the Capitals’ AHL affiliate and a perennial power.
Mann brought along Burgdoerfer, who had only played three AHL games to that point.
“I don’t think without him I’d be where I am right now,” Burgdoerfer said during training camp. “He believed in me, kind of said, ‘Hey, this kid should be here.’”
Burgdoerfer became an AHL regular under Mann. The consistent winning also granted Burgdoerfer, a defensive defenseman, some exposure.
“The last couple years in Hershey we’ve been fortunate enough to have a good team and the coaching staff gave me a lot of opportunity and believed in me,” Burgdoerfer said. “Winning always draws attention. Having a good team, I feel like that really helped push my career forward.”
Burgdoerfer earned invites to Washington’s training camp, but he had never played an NHL preseason game until this year, after the Sabres signed him to a two-way contract in July.
The East Setauket native immediately impressed Bylsma, who has mentioned him as a recall candidate all season.
The Sabres summoned Burgdoerfer because defenseman Taylor Fedun injured his shoulder late in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 loss to Boston.
“I guess I just kind of slipped through the cracks, but I always believe in myself and my game,” Burgdoerfer said. “So I just kind of kept working. Thankfully, with the right people in my corner, we’re starting to turn the corner here.”